Skip to main content

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.”

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer
woman-in-bed-wearing-twilight-apollo-on-ankle

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more