Physicists have created the world’s first multiverse of universes in the lab by using a metamaterial.
Now, before I could possibly hope to elaborate on that, I have to explain a few of those terms. First, it’s very important to understand what a ‘multiverse of universes’ is in order to understand the significance of this accomplishment.
The multiverse is basically a hypothetical construct which states that we live in a set of multiple universes. In short, the best description I’ve heard to describe the multiverse principle is to imagine our universe as a bubble. Our universal bubble is drifting around in a space filled with other bubbles. These other bubbles contain their own universes. It’s important to note that these other universes do not necessarily have our laws of physics – in fact, their laws of physics could be very different. Light might be slower, gravity might be stronger or nonexistent, quantum physics might not exist, etc. This is not the same thing as the ‘Many Worlds Theory’ which is basically the theory of parallel worlds, you know, everything that can happen has happened.
This idea of reality, assuming it’s true that is, could prove to be very exciting (and dangerous). These universe bubbles could collide with each other, something might cause it to ‘pop’, it could even give intelligence from our universe the ability to live indefinitely assuming such a species could figure out how to cross from one universe to another.
On to metamaterials. A metamaterial is an artificial material engineered with specific properties that may or may not be found in nature. Metamaterials aren’t special in the since that they are constructed from engineered elements, but rather in the sense that naturally occurring materials (like metals or plastics) are meticulously arranged in a precise geometry so it affects waves of light or sound in an unconventional manner. A prime example of this is using a metamaterial to create an invisibility cloak of some kind – which has actually been done. For more information on that, see the ‘further reading’ section at the end of this post.
In this case, researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Townson University created a metamaterial that, when shot with a laser, allowed multiple universes to be formed. These universes were formed in a space called Minkowski space. Minkowski space is basically fourth dimensional space, it unifies Euclidean three-dimensional space with the fourth dimension (time) and works very well with special relativity.
The metamaterial of choice for this experiment is a little unconventional, for the substance used isn’t traditionally considered a metamaterial. In this case, researchers used a solution of cobalt in kerosene. Interestingly enough, the scientists on the project discovered that by applying a magnetic field to the solution, the cobalt snaps together to form nice, neat columns. This particular metamaterial possesses the property that, when light passes through it, the space behaves like a Minkawski universe.
For each column of cobalt that is formed, you can create a different universe. By thinning out the solution, allowing for multiple columns to form, scientists were able to create multiple multiverses.
There are really two exciting aspects to this research. First, and certainly the main attraction, is the ability to create other universes. This would allow researchers the ability to create ‘pet universes’ where they could study the affects of different changes in the laws of physics (such as, what happens if photons have mass and light travels much slower than it does here). Second, and equally as interesting, is the discovery of this metamaterial. Since such materials are traditionally hard to create, the idea of having a cheap and self-organizing material could be very beneficial.
All in all, this experiment opens up a lot of potential for new research – types of research we haven’t had access to in the past and, in many cases, haven’t even considered. The true significance of these discovers will be realized as the scientific community does what they do best: ask questions, run tests, and ask more questions.