What really matters?
Just when you think that things can’t get any weirder, quantum physics threw us (yet another) curve ball: there may be a brand new form of matter governed by an entirely new branch of physics.
Back in 1970, a young physicist working in the Soviet Union made a counterintutive prediction. Vitaly Efimov, now at the University of Washington in the US, showed that quantum objects that cannot form into pairs could nevertheless form into triplets.
In 2006, a group in Austria found the first example of such a so-called Efimov state in a cold gas of cesium atoms.
That’s puzzling. Surely the bonds that hold triplets together are the same as those that bind pairs. Actually, no! It turns out that there is a subtle but important difference that makes these bonds completely different…
Today, Nils Baas at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology makes another startling prediction. He says that the strange, unworldly bonds that allow cesium atoms to stick together in triplets should allow much more complex objects to form too. In fact, he says we’re on the verge of discovering a brand new form of matter governed by an entirely new branch of physics.