Newly created superfluid defies physics, accelerates backward when you push it

scientists negative mass superfluid wsu 11406305 l
Alexander Raths/123RF
It sounds impossible, but apparently it’s not: Scientists at Washington State University have created a superfluid that appears to move counter to the laws of physics.

That means that when you push it, it doesn’t accelerate in that direction, but rather accelerates backward instead.

“We have demonstrated that lasers can be used to design systems in which cold atoms behave as if they have a negative mass, [meaning that] if you push or pull them, they accelerate in the wrong direction,” Michael Forbes, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, told Digital Trends.

The fluid was created by reducing the temperature of rubidium atoms to almost absolute zero, at which molecules start to behave more like waves. This state was predicted by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein in what is called the Bose-Einstein condensate. Washington State scientists then used lasers to interfere with the rubidium atoms to change the way they spin, which resulted in the effect of making them behave like they had a negative mass.

The work was described in a newly published article in the journal Physical Review Letters, where it is was given the recommendation of “Editor’s Suggestion.”

For now, the breakthrough remains unlikely to immediately affect your day to day life. You’re unlikely, for instance, to immediately get a superfluid desk toy that resists efforts to move in the direction you push it. As Forbes said, “These systems are [only] about 100 microns across. To realize the negative effective mass, one needs to embed the material in lasers, so at present, it is not obvious how to scale this up.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t potential use cases, though.

“The field of cold atoms is advancing at an extremely rapid pace,” he continues. “Many of [these] cutting-edge experimental techniques quickly find practical application in quantum technologies such as high precision quantum sensing, quantum cryptography, and quantum computation. Having controllable access to a fluid that behaves as if it has negative mass may have some very interesting applications.”

One is that it provides a new tool for studying exotic material such as found in neutron stars, the early universe, and inside nuclei. These are systems which are extremely difficult to study experimentally, but could be simulated in a lab using cold atoms. The results may help refine theories related to nuclear physics — thereby shedding light on massive questions like the origin of the elements in our universe.

“Nuclear reactions have more terrestrial applications, but modelling nuclei is tricky,” Forbes said. “Unlike neutron stars, which are held together by gravity, nuclei hold themselves together. Cold atoms, however, need to have an external pressure to keep them together. With this negative mass effect, the cold atoms experience a form of self-trapping that we hope to use to study the behavior of self-bound systems.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

You can now get a Surface Laptop 2 for $800 at the Microsoft Store

Along with deals on other variants, starting configurations of Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 are now going for $800 online at its retail store, cutting $200 from its usual $1,000 starting price. 
Smart Home

Amazon shows off compact cashier-free store that could show up at airports

Amazon is testing its smallest Amazon Go store to date as it considers taking the grab-and-go technology to new venues such as airports and train stations. The compact store is a quarter the size of its current locations.
Computing

Intel's discrete graphics will be called 'Xe,' IGP gets Adapative Sync next year

Intel has officially dubbed its discrete graphics product Intel Xe, and the company also provided details about its Gen11 IGP. The latter will include adaptive sync support and will arrive in 2019.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.