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The Unruh Effect: Researchers are studying what it’s like to travel through the vacuum of space at incredibly high speeds

The inability to test cutting-edge theories in a laboratory setting is a major obstacle to basic research in physics. However, a new groundbreaking finding allows scientists to observe phenomena that were previously only understood theoretically or depicted in science fiction. The Unruh effect is one such theory. It’s a warm glow that appears over a streaming light when astronauts experience extreme acceleration in a spacecraft observing the light from stars. This effect is very similar to the light from black holes expected by Stephen Hawking, first predicted by Canadian scientist Bill Unruh. This is because black holes accelerate everything towards them.

Like the Hawking effect, the Unruh effect requires enormous accelerations in order to produce a meaningful glow. It was therefore believed that the unruh effect was so weak that it would be difficult to measure with existing equipment at the accelerations achievable in tests.

Using high-intensity lasers, the study team discovered a new technique to experiment with the Unruh effect. They discovered that by irradiating an accelerated particle with a high-intensity laser, the Unruh effect can be amplified to a point where it can be measured.

Surprisingly, the scientists discovered that the accelerated matter could be made transparent by finely controlling acceleration and deceleration.

The findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.

The team is now preparing to conduct further laboratory tests. They are also fascinated by the implications of research on some of the most fundamental problems in physics and the nature of the universe.

Barbara Soda, a PhD student in physics at the University of Waterloo and one of the paper’s authors, said black holes are thought to be not entirely black. Instead, Hawking found, they were meant to emit radiation. This is because quantum fluctuations in radiation can escape a black hole while nothing else can.

The ability to test the Unruh effect, as well as the phenomenon of acceleration-induced transparency, is a major advance for physicists who have long been trying to reconcile Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics.

Achim Kempf, a professor of applied mathematics and a member of the Waterloo Institute for Quantum Computing and co-author of the study, said that while general relativity and quantum physics are now at odds, there must be a unified theory that defined how things worked in of the world.


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Ryan Sederquist

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