Scientists participating in an international research effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, have discovered a previously unknown component of silicon crystals and unveiled new information about a subatomic particle. In doing so, the researchers of the multi-year experiment have yielded details about the “long-theorized fifth force of nature.” The findings may enable additional breakthroughs in quantum technologies, the University of Waterloo announced in a September 10 statement.
Dmitry Pushin, part of the Canadian university’s Institute for Quantum Computing and a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, participated in conducting the research with scientists from the United States and Japan. He is interested in producing high-quality quantum sensors out of “perfect” silicon crystals. Pushin said that their findings, which improved by four times the precision measurement of silicon crystal structures, “open the door to future technologies.”
“By aiming subatomic particles known as neutrons at silicon crystals and monitoring the outcome with exquisite sensitivity, the researchers were able to obtain three extraordinary results: the first measurement of a key neutron property in 20 years using a unique method; the highest-precision measurements of the effects of heat-related vibrations in a silicon crystal; and limits on the strength of a possible ‘fifth force’ beyond standard physics theories,” the university reported.
Traditional physics theories, known as the Standard Model, lay out an understanding of how particles and forces interact. The university noted that scientists have long suspected the model falls short of truly explaining how nature works.
“The Standard Model describes three fundamental forces in nature: electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear force,” a University of Waterloo spokesperson clarified. “Each force operates through the action of ‘carrier particles.’ For example, the photon is the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. But the Standard Model has yet to incorporate gravity in its description of nature. Furthermore, some experiments and theories suggest the possible presence of a fifth force.”
Building on their breakthrough knowledge, the researchers are planning to expand the precision measurement approach—which is called pendellösung measurement—by employing it to both silicon and germanium.
“They expect a possible factor of five reduction in their measurement uncertainties, which could produce the most precise measurement of the neutron charge radius to date and further constrain—or discover—a fifth force,” the university spokesperson shared. “They also plan to perform a cryogenic version of the experiment, which would lend insight into how the crystal atoms behave in their so-called ‘quantum ground state,’ which accounts for the fact that quantum objects are never perfectly still, even at temperatures approaching absolute zero.”
The group published their research, “Pendellösung Interferometry Probes the Neutron Charge Radius, Lattice Dynamics, and Fifth Forces,” in the latest issue of Science.
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