• In a new variation on the methods used to bend light, physicists at MIT have found that subatomic particles can be induced to speed up all by themselves, almost to the speed of light, without the application of any external forces. The same underlying principle could also be used to extend the lifetime of some unstable isotopes, perhaps opening up new avenues of research in basic particle physics.
  • The new findings are based on a novel set of solutions for a set of basic quantum-physics principles called the Dirac equations; these describe the relativistic behavior of fundamental particles, such as electrons, in terms of a wave structure. By manipulating the wave structure, the team found, it should be possible to cause electrons to behave in unusual and counterintuitive ways.
  • This manipulation of waves could be accomplished using specially engineered phase masks — similar to those used to create holograms, but at a much smaller scale. Once created, the particles “self-accelerate,” the researchers say, in a way that is indistinguishable from how they would behave if propelled by an electromagnetic field.

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