A trillionth of a second, and “atto” isn't even the smallest prefix

A trillionth of a second, and “atto” isn't even the smallest prefix

The science editor was all set on October 3. The Nobel Prize in Physics was announced. This went to three scientists working with very short flashes of light, on the totosecond scale. This means that the totosecond will appear for the first time in 2023. Never before has a trillionth of a second shone on a single page. devotion.

The research of the three Nobel laureates made it possible to follow the movements of electrons in molecules and atoms. These movements happen so quickly that people cannot perceive them. So physicists built highly specialized equipment, with beams of light pushed through the gas, so they could see what was happening inside the atom.

As nice as it sounds, this is where a problem arises that affects everything small, large or expensive: it is so far removed from our everyday experience that it exceeds our imagination. In science, this problem often arises, in a small or large form. Take: stars 370 light-years away from Earth. Gigaton Company2emissions. Or the scale of quantum mechanics.

Heartbeat in the age of the universe

The Nobel Committee immediately came up with an example. The number of totoseconds in a heartbeat will be equal to the number of heartbeats in the age of the universe. in devotion Explained: If you take thousandth-step steps in seconds, you will eventually reach atto in milliseconds, micro, nano, pico, and femtoseconds.

Ivo van Volpen, a physicist and professor of science communication at Leiden University, says the attosecond has not yet been defined like the milli, sub and nano prefixes. He says that attu is not even the smallest prefix in the International System of Units. Zepto and yocto already exist, and in 2022 “ronto Second” and “quecto Second” will also be added.

Physicists work on increasingly smaller scales. Is it becoming increasingly difficult to translate these terms into a humanitarian scale? Van Volpen thinks so. Breaking through this world has become more difficult. It's more elusive.” If, as a physicist, you work with the smallest particles, your work takes place in a world many thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus. How do you make it clear when the world reveals itself on the totosecond scale?

Van Volpen says this shows, above all, how much progress has been made in science. Gives an example. “Let's say you want to know how people live in a city, how the city works, but you're on the moon, 384,400 kilometers from Earth. If you look at Earth with the equipment, you'll see little dots, and maybe sometimes you'll see something moving, and you'll see little rays Of light. This is the case when looking at the smallest particles. But you only see the reality of the city when you can go there and walk around. That's how big a difference it could be if a physicist made it possible to look at a new scale.

The secret of good simile

Every so often in physics an equation appears that works well and immediately attracts attention. Van Volpen talks about the discovery of gravitational waves. The effect of the gravitational wave would be 100,000 times smaller than the water level rise in the IJsselmeer if an additional drop of water arrived there.

“If someone comes up with something good, you will see that it sticks,” van Volpen says. He had never seen such a fine example of totosecond flashes of light. “But maybe readers devotion Any suggestions?”

In short: Zooming too much or too little is still a challenge. However, avoiding these units is not an option either. This would be a waste. Because it is precisely at the edges of imagination that wonder also begins. About how three physicists can visualize the motion of electrons on such an absurdly small time scale.

Read also:

Nobel Prize in Physics for research involving extremely short flashes of light

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded on Tuesday to three pioneers who managed to create extremely short flashes of light and thus envision a new world.

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