Most Detailed View of Electrons Ever Captured Proves That They Are, In Fact, Round

Thursday, 18 October 2018 - 11:13AM
Physics
Thursday, 18 October 2018 - 11:13AM
Most Detailed View of Electrons Ever Captured Proves That They Are, In Fact, Round
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Nicolle R. Fuller, National Science Foundation – No restrictions
If someone asked you to draw an electron, what shape would your masterpiece take? Physicists recently used lasers in an experiment to get a closer look at particles around the subatomic particles than ever before in hopes of finding proof that electrons are slightly skewed. In their findings published in the journal Nature, they concluded that the particles around the electrons are not large enough to cause it to deform, meaning that the model of an electron remains spherical in shape.

Yep. Electrons are round.

"It's certainly not going to make anybody very happy," Yale professor and study co-author David DeMille told LiveScience about the results, which could disprove multiple theories but support the Standard Model. It is not yet possible to view electrons directly, so DeMille and the Advanced Cold Molecule Electron Electric Dipole Moment Search (ACME) project pointed lasers at cold thorium oxide molecules in a small chamber (moving at a rate of 1 million per pulse, 50 times per second). They then studied the light being reflected by the molecules. Bends in the light would suggest the phenomenon known as an electric dipole moment, where large particles around the electron would influence its charge and cause distortion in its shape. Even when looking at the molecules ten times closer than previous studies, no bends in the reflected light were found.

"If we had discovered that the shape wasn't round, that would be the biggest headline in physics for the past several decades," said researcher Gerald Gabrielse in a statement. "But our finding is still just as scientifically significant because it strengthens the Standard Model of particle physics and excludes alternative models." Commenting further on why scientists are looking for electric dipole moments to "fix" the Standard Model, Gabrielse said that, "the Standard Model as it stands cannot possibly be right because it cannot predict why the universe exists...That's a pretty big loophole." And it's not a matter of having the right equipment to crack the case. "If an electron were the size of Earth, we could detect if the Earth's center was off by a distance a million times smaller than a human hair...that's how sensitive our apparatus is," the researcher said. "We know the Standard Model is wrong, but we can't seem to find where it's wrong. It's like a huge mystery novel."

On what comes next now that they've looked closer than ever before, DeMille said, "our result tells the scientific community that we need to seriously rethink some of the alternative theories."

In the meantime, electrons will just keep being round.
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