• Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

    Critical Thought

    Critical thoughts on quantum technologies

    Exploring Quantum Electrodynamics: Testing the Theory with Uranium

    ByThemba Hadebe

    Feb 13, 2024
    Exploring Quantum Electrodynamics: Testing the Theory with Uranium

    Quantum electrodynamics (QED) is a fundamental theory in physics, describing the interactions between charged particles and light. It plays a crucial role in the standard model of particle physics. To thoroughly test the predictions of QED, scientists have now turned to uranium, an element with a vast number of protons in its nucleus.

    Uranium has a strong electric field in its nucleus, almost a million times stronger than that of a hydrogen nucleus. This electric field is much more powerful than any that can be generated by human technologies. Scientists conducted experiments using uranium ions, which are uranium atoms stripped of all but two of their electrons. This resulted in “helium-like uranium,” as it resembled helium atoms with two electrons.

    The experiments took place at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany. Uranium ions were accelerated and directed through a copper foil, causing them to lose all but one electron. When the ions passed through nitrogen gas, they captured another electron, forming helium-like uranium. Each uranium ion was left with one high-energy electron that underwent a series of jumps between energy levels, releasing X-rays.

    By measuring the energy of these transitions, the researchers were able to compare them to the predictions based on QED. The results confirmed that QED calculations hold up even in intense electromagnetic fields such as those found around uranium nuclei. The calculations needed to consider the interactions of electrons with “virtual” particles, which constantly appear and disappear according to the principles of quantum physics.

    This research provides valuable insights into the behavior of QED in extreme conditions. The findings pave the way for further exploration of how QED operates in strong electromagnetic fields, expanding our understanding of fundamental particles and their interactions. The use of uranium as a testing ground showcases the power and versatility of QED as a theory in physics.

    Quantum Electrodynamics (QED): A fundamental theory in physics that describes the interactions between charged particles and light. It plays a crucial role in the standard model of particle physics.

    Uranium: An element with a vast number of protons in its nucleus. It has a strong electric field, almost a million times stronger than that of a hydrogen nucleus.

    Helium-like Uranium: Uranium ions that have been stripped of all but two of their electrons, resulting in atoms that resemble helium atoms with two electrons.

    The GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research: A research center in Germany where the experiments with uranium ions were conducted.

    Copper Foil: A thin sheet of copper through which the uranium ions were directed, causing them to lose all but one electron.

    Nitrogen Gas: The gas through which the uranium ions passed after being directed through the copper foil. The ions captured another electron while passing through the gas, forming helium-like uranium.

    X-rays: High-energy photons that are released when the high-energy electron in helium-like uranium undergoes jumps between energy levels.

    The experiments conducted at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research involved accelerating and directing uranium ions through a copper foil. The ions lost all but one electron and then passed through nitrogen gas, where they captured another electron to form helium-like uranium. The high-energy electron in the helium-like uranium underwent jumps between energy levels, releasing X-rays. The researchers measured the energy of these transitions to compare them with predictions based on QED. The results confirmed that QED calculations hold up even in intense electromagnetic fields such as those found around uranium nuclei. The calculations took into account the interactions of electrons with “virtual” particles, which constantly appear and disappear according to the principles of quantum physics.

    The research provides valuable insights into the behavior of QED in extreme conditions, expanding our understanding of fundamental particles and their interactions. By using uranium as a testing ground, the study demonstrates the power and versatility of QED as a theory in physics.

    For more information on quantum electrodynamics and its applications, you can visit the main website of the American Physical Society: https://www.aps.org/.