Scientists Observe Quantum Effects in Cold Chemistry

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— R&D Magazine

At very low temperatures, close to absolute zero, chemical reactions may proceed at a much higher rate than classical chemistry says they should—because in this extreme chill, quantum effects enter the picture. A Weizmann Institute team has now confirmed this experimentally; their results would not only provide insight into processes in the intriguing quantum world in which particles act as waves, it might explain how chemical reactions occur in the vast frigid regions of interstellar space.

Long-standing predictions are that quantum effects should allow the formation of a transient bond—one that will force colliding atoms and molecules to orbit each other, instead of separating after the collision. Such a state would be very important, as orbiting atoms and molecules could have multiple chances to interact chemically. In this theory, a reaction that would seem to have a very low probability of occurring would proceed very rapidly at certain energies. For the first time, researchers have now managed to experimentally confirm this elusive process in a reaction they performed at chilling temperatures of just a fraction of a degree above the absolute zero—0.01 K. Their results appeared in Science.

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