News and Commentary

Tennessee Physicist Looking For Something You Only Find In Sci-Fi Novels

One visionary physicist in Tennessee is attempting to discover something previously reserved for sci-fi novels: a portal to a parallel universe.

Physicist Leah Broussard, from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is planning to fire subatomic particles past a strong magnet and through what would be considered an impenetrable wall — unless some of the particles metamorphosize into mirror-image of themselves, giving them a chance to go through the wall, as NBC News reported.

Broussard and her team wrote:

The theory of mirror matter predicts a hidden sector made up of a copy of the Standard Model particles and interactions but with opposite parity. If mirror matter interacts with ordinary matter, there could be experimentally accessible implications in the form of neutral particle oscillations. Direct searches for neutron oscillations into mirror neutrons in a controlled magnetic field have previously been performed using ultracold neutrons in storage/disappearance measurements, with some inconclusive results … Here we describe a proposed disappearance and regeneration experiment in which the neutron oscillates to and from a mirror neutron state.

In the 1990’s, physicists discovered that neutrons that broke into protons created in particle beams lasted 14 minutes and 48 seconds before breaking into protons, but neutrons kept in a laboratory bottle lasted ten seconds less. Ten seconds sounds trivial, but as NBC News explained, “ … the actual difference should be zero: All neutrons are exactly the same, and their behavior should depend not one bit on where or how they are examined.”

As New Scientist explains, with the help of Zurab Berezhiani at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, “The mirror world could be the culprit, if it exists. A key feature of these models, says Berezhiani, is that neutrons oscillate back and forth between the two worlds. ‘When passing through a magnetic field, the oscillation probability increases,’ says Berezhiani. The jaw-dropping suggestion is that neutrons are only a part-time resident of our universe. The rest of their time is spent in a parallel plane of reality, where any protons they emit would go undetected.”

Benjamin Grinstein, a particle-physics expert at the University of California, San Diego, echoed, “I take discrepancy very seriously. It’s not just between two experiments. It is a collection of many experiments done independently by several groups. The newest experiments, conceived in part to resolve the disagreement, have only made it worse.”

Broussard stated, “This is a pretty straightforward experiment that we cobbled together with parts we found lying around, using equipment and resources we already had available at Oak Ridge,” adding that if by chance she finds just one mirror particle, “If you discover something new like that, the game totally changes.” She asserted, “It all comes down to: ‘Are we able to shine neutrons through a wall? We should see no neutrons’ according to conventional physics theory. If some of them show up anyway, that would suggest that conventional physics is wrong, and the mirror world is real.”