Cracking the case of the missing molecules

Thursday, July 30, 2020 - 01:20 in Physics & Chemistry

In a famous parable, three blind men encounter an elephant for the first time. Each touches a part —the trunk, ear, side — and concludes the creature is a thick snake, a fan, or a wall. This elephant, said Kang-Kuen Ni, is like the quantum world. But scientists understand that they can only explore one tiny bit of this vast, unknown creature at a time. Now, Ni has revealed a few more to explore. It started last December, when she and her team constructed a new apparatus capable of achieving the lowest-temperature chemical reactions of any currently available technology, and then broke and formed the coldest bonds in the history of molecular coupling. An unforeseen benefit was that the ultracold temperatures slowed the reaction so much that researchers caught the first real-time glimpse of what happens during a chemical transformation. Though reactions were considered too fast to measure, Ni managed to...

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