A Much-Needed Dose of SCIENCE

Three orders of business today, dear galleons.

First, we’re going to start with a bit of news that currently has no practical applications… it’s just cool.

Thanks to the Fermi telescope’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), we’ve seen something pretty spectacular in your run-of-the-mill (AKA already bitchin’) electrical storm. We already knew that such storms could produce bursts of light referred to as terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs). But we now know that these gamma-ray flashes also produce something much more interesting- antimatter.

That’s right. Motherfucking antimatter.

At the American Astronomical Society meeting, researchers presented this surprising find.

“We expected to see TGFs; they had been seen by the GBM’s predecessor,” said Dr. McEnery of the Florida Institute of Technology. “But what absolutely intrigues us is the discovery that TGFs produce not just gamma rays, but also produce positrons, the antimatter equivalent to electrons.”

TGFs occur about 500 times a day in thunderstorms all over the world. These storms create high electric fields, fields that accelerate electrons in the storm, reaching near-light speed and emitting high-energy gamma rays.

When these gamma rays pass near the nucleus of an atom, they can turn their energy into an electron-positron pair. These pairs of charged particles align along the Earth’s magnetic field, traveling vast distances in beam of matter and antimatter heading in opposite directions.

Fermi detected this anomaly based on the characteristic flash that occurs when these electrons and positrons meet again, annihilating. The particular color of light of this annihilation flash is proof that antimatter has been created.

As of right now, scientists don’t really know how to use this new information.

…I bet the LHC is feeling pretty pissy right now. Electrical storms creating antimatter? Seems like nature is trying to steal the LHC’s thunder.

Get it? GET IT? Steal its thunder?

I slay me.

***

Science news the second deals with what may be my favorite concept in physics: quantum entanglement.

Referred to by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance,” quantum entanglement means two or more objects can be entangled so that measuring one affects the outcome of measuring the others, no matter how far apart the objects are.

Quantum mechanics is so romantic.

Now, entanglement is vastly important to quantum computing, as entangled bits occupy a superposition of two or more states at once and so can be used to solve some problems much faster than conventional computers.

Unfortunately, our building blocks to quantum computers are missing a vital ingredient: memory. Without memory, we can’t transmit quantum states over large distances or do complex calculations. In short, without memory, there is no quantum computer.

Photons are terrible for storage, seeing as they travel at the speed of light. The only workable quantum memory we’ve ever created has been using chilled clouds of atoms, but this requires bulky equipment and highly trained physicists to create and maintain.

But no longer!

Two teams, one in Canada and one in Switzerland, have created practical, solid-state quantum-memory devices. Using photons.

They sent one photon of an entangled pair into a specially “tuned” crystal (by tuned, I mean they removed certain ions, leaving only ones that absorb certain frequencies). Because of this “tuning”, after about 7 nanoseconds the oscillations all come back into sync to recreate a copy of the original photon. This photon is still entangled with the original.

We now have a 7 nanosecond quantum-memory device. This might seem insignificant to you, but to a scientist, this could already prove useful. They also believe they’ll be able to boost this time to full seconds through the use of electric fields to alter the crystal tuning.

“My professors used to say that entanglement is like a dream: as soon as you think about it, it is gone,” said Nicolas Gisin, head of the Switzerland team. “Now we can show that it is pretty robust.”

***

Our third science snippet is really just a sidestep from our last one, but it may be the most important of the three.

Quantum entanglement, while extremely useful for quantum computing, is more widely recognized as a bridge to quantum teleportation.

Luc Montagnier, a Nobel Prize winner who helped establish that HIV causes AIDS, has evidence that DNA can send spooky electromagnetic imprints of itself into distant cells and fluids. He also suggests that enzymes can mistake the imprints for real DNA, and faithfully copy them to produce the real thing.

Essentially, we’re talking about quantum teleportation of DNA.

The scientific community is in a bit of an uproar over this claim.

“If the results are correct,” said theoretical chemist Jeff Reimers, “these would be the most significant experiments performed in the past 90 years, demanding re-evaluation of the whole conceptual framework of modern chemistry.”

Many scientists are referring to it as “pathological science,” and other doubt the veracity of the claim based on a lack of data and a sub-par explanation of the experiment.

However, according to Reimers, “”The experimental methods used appear comprehensive.”

Two test tubes were placed adjacent to one another within a copper coil and subjected to a low frequency electromagnetic field of 7 hertz. One tube contained a fragment of DNA around 100 bases long; the second tube contained pure water. After about 16 hours, both tubes were subjected to a method routinely used to amplify traces of DNA. Though one tube originally contained only water, the gene fragment was recovered from both tubes.

What Montagnier is asserting is that a ghostly electromagnetic imprint of the DNA was sent into the water tube. When they applied the method to amplify the DNA traces, the “ghost imprint” was mistaken for the real thing and used as a template to make actual DNA “matching” the imprint. As a result, DNA was extracted from both tubes.

Many scientists are dismissing the experiment, claiming it would be impossible for information to be stored in water for more than picoseconds. Much like our photons in the previous story, water doesn’t have memory.

“The structure would be destroyed instantly,” said chemist Felix Franks. “Water has no ‘memory’. You can’t make an imprint in it and recover it later.”

It’s an experiment that will see many replications over the coming months, as the scientific community seeks to prove or disprove Montagnier’s data. I look forward to the results. Whether it was experimental contamination, a faulty test set up, a misreading of the data, or actual, paradigm-shifting science, only time and further testing can say.

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