February 16, 2010

Scientists Create Hottest Temperature, Compare It To Big Bang

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York report they have created the hottest temperature in the lab -- 4 trillion degrees Celsius -- which is thought to be consistent with actual temperatures that existed when the universe was born.

The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) was used to smash gold ions together to make super-heated explosions that lasted only milliseconds. RHIC is a particle accelerator that is 2.4 miles around and is buried 12 feet underground in Upton, New York. It was designed to "create matter at temperatures first encountered in the early universe," Brookhaven's Steven Vigdor told a news conference at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Washington on Monday.

The temperature created gives physicists enough data to study for years in hopes of understanding why and how the universe formed. They are looking for tiny irregularities that may explain why matter clumped out of the primeval hot soup. They also hope their findings will be useful in other more practical applications, like making smaller, faster and more powerful computer devices.

In vast contrast to the 4 trillion degree temperature scientists achieved, the temperature of the center of the sun is 50 million degrees. Protons and neutrons are predicted to melt at around 2 trillion degrees. A supernova is about 2 billion degrees at its core. From the point when the universe was first created, it is now only 0.7 of a degree above absolute zero.

Vigdor and his team believe they are witnessing the recreation of the moment just before the universe was formed, when atoms, made up of quark and gluon components, condensed into hadrons, which are particles that make up most of the universe today. In the milliseconds just after to the Big Bang something happened to create an imbalance in matter over anti-matter. If there had been no difference in the balance then the end result would have been a universe made up of pure energy.

Physicists are hoping to create even hotter temperatures later this year when they use the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to smash lead ions together.

Theorist Dmitri Kharzeev said that Brookhaven has also patented some commercial applications that may allow scientists to create devices that can operate "not only on the current of an electric charge but also on the current of spin." Understanding how and why quarks spin differently than other particles may help scientists harness their power.

Scientists believe that graphene, a nanomaterial, will be able to replace silicon in super-fast computer devices if they can replicate the symmetrical spin, according to Kharzeev. "We are thinking of other practical applications as well," he added.


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