Saturday, March 17, 2007

Chicken soup for the universe.

We may have been taught that the universe is 99.99...% hard vacuum, but according to this New Scientist article, which I found through a link in Alan Boyle's ever-helpful Cosmic Log, some physicists at Stanford, MIT and Harvard believe that "vacuum" may be a "string-net liquid" that could be analogized to noodles in chicken broth.

What's particularly interesting about this article is how it shows the interplay among theoretical, experimental* and applied physics, as well as geology. It has been proposed that a mineral called herbertsmithite, found in the Chilean Andes, may be an example of a string-net liquid. The possible application, being explored by a group at MIT, is to quantum computers, which would be much faster and more capacious than silicon-based ones.

*The late Nobel physics laureate Richard Feynman explained the difference between theoretical physicists, like himself, and experimental physicists with this anecdote: He was giving a lecture at one of the Lawrence laboratories in California, where his audience consisted mostly of experimentalists. He referred to a fairly recently discovered particle, and said, "Let's assume its spin is two and one half." He was immediately interrupted by a voice from the audience with a heavy Brooklyn accent, saying, "Hey, it ain't two and a half, it's tree. Dey measured it."