Before one delves into any Snow White reference, we should mention that the above headline is a result of a successful experiment conducted by a team of researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. As for the simple outcome of the project, the scientists were able to extend the lifetime of an atom by a whopping ten-times, by strategically positioning the atom in front of a mirror. In essence, the experiment entailed the ‘excited’ nature of atoms (or atoms that have energy), and how this energy could be kept longer before the atom returned to its original state, thus ushering the extension of a ‘lifetime’. To that end, the researchers found that the atoms charged with energy, are able to keep this excited state for a longer period of time, when kept at a specified distance from a short circuit that acts as the mirror.
Now, it should be noted that the specimen used in this experiment pertains to an artificial atom – which is basically a superconducting electrical circuit (fabricated from a silicone chip) that is made to behave like an atom. In other words, this particular electrical circuit can exhibit the core scope of natural atoms, by accepting charge, becoming excited, and then emitting in form of light particles (which in this case relates to invisible microwaves). As Per Delsing, Professor of Physics and head of the research team, made it clear –
We have demonstrated how we can control the lifetime of an atom in a very simple way. We can vary the lifetime of the atom by changing the distance between the atom and the mirror. If we place the atom at a certain distance from the mirror the atom’s lifetime is extended by such a length that we are not even able to observe the atom. Consequently, we can hide the atom in front of a mirror.
Göran Johansson, Professor of Theoretical and Applied Quantum Physics and leader of the theory group, added –
Atoms ‘die’ because they return to their original ground state – it sees very small variations in the electromagnetic field known as vacuum fluctuations.
Consequently, an interaction is made between the atom and its mirror image, which then affects the range of vacuum fluctuations ‘in front’ of the atom. In essence, the researchers were successful in contriving a system that is conducive to gauging such vacuum fluctuations that are conventionally very difficult to measure.
The full paper was originally published in the Nature magazine.