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Are scientists on the brink of discovering a mirror universe?
New experiments look to the interplay between neutrons and magnetic fields to observe our universal reflection.
- Science fiction has long speculated about parallel universes and what they may be like.
- Researchers have devised new experiments to look for how a mirror universe may be influencing our own.
- If such evidence is found, it could bring to light many of the universe's mysteries, such as the nature of dark matter.
In the original Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror," the crew of the Enterprise are accidentally transported to a parallel universe. Dubbed the Mirror Universe, its denizens are evil doppelgangers of the crew, complete with garish uniforms, Nazi-like salutes, and full, robust goatees.
Like many concepts first imagined in science fiction, the mirror universe may actually exist, albeit in a far less melodramatic form.
As reported by New Scientist, physicists are busy speculating about our universal reflection, and two experiments are currently underway to search out the empirical evidence. If proof of a mirror universe is found, it may help solve many of physics most intractable questions.
Searching for our own reflection
At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's traveling science fair, participants can experience life as a ion and then a neutron in a neutron beam. Photo credit: Genevieve Martin / ORNL / Flickr
The first experiment profiled by New Scientist comes courtesy of physicist Leah Broussard and her team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. They have devised a simple method for detecting a mirror universe.
An apparatus will fire a beam of neutrons at a wall with varying magnetic fields on both sides. These neutrons can't penetrate the wall, yet the researchers have placed a device behind it that will scan the area for these very subatomic particles.
Why? If any neutrons manage to appear behind the wall, it will be strong evidence that they oscillated into mirror neutrons, skipped right on pass the wall because it existed in a different part of the universe, and then oscillated back in time to hit the detection device.
"Only the [neutrons] that can oscillate and then come back into our universe can be detected," Broussard told New Scientist. "When passing through a magnetic field, the oscillation probability increases."
Broussard and her team are looking at neutrons because of a quirk in their decay.
Inside a nucleus, neutrons are perfectly stable, but outside, they decay into a proton, an electron, and an antineutrino of the electron type. Here's the quirk: all free neutrons should decay at the same rate, but that rate changes depending on how scientists measure it.
The first way to measure the lifetime of free neutrons is to isolate them in a "bottle trap" and then count how many remain after a certain amount of time. The second way is to count the protons emerging from a neutron beam generated by a nuclear reactor. Yet, scientists get different rates of decay for each — 14 minutes 39 seconds for the former, 14 minutes 48 seconds for the latter.
A possible explanation for this discrepancy is a mirror universe. Neutrons may have dual citizenship in both universes. When they summer in our neighboring universe, any protons they emit are not detected and therefore not counted in our measurements. This could explain why we see less decay activity in the neutron beam.
Signals in magnetic fields
The second experiment profiled by New Scientist was developed by Klaus Kirch and his team at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. This team applied magnetic fields of varying strengths to neutrons in a bottle trap.
The goal is to find the telltale signals of mirror magnetic fields. These would suggest neutrons oscillating between universes, potentially supporting any evidence found by Broussard and her team.
"The experimentalist's view is, if it doesn't look completely crazy, can it be tested?" Kirch told New Scientist. "I don't really believe the signals are there, and we have designed an experiment that can disprove them, and we'll see what comes out of it."
Kirch and his team have completed their experiment and are currently analyzing the data.
A mirror darkly
As Yuri Kamyshkov, a mirror matter researcher at the University of Tennessee and a collaborator with Broussard, noted: "The probability of finding anything is low, but it's a simple and inexpensive experiment." Despite the odds, he adds, a positive result would usher in a physics revolution.
A mirror universe could explain many of physics' unsolved mysterious, among them the question of dark matter. As Michio Kaku told Big Think in an interview:
"Dark matter is massive, it has gravity, but it's invisible. It has no interactions with light or the electromagnetic force. So, there is a theory that says that perhaps dark matter is nothing but matter, ordinary matter, in another dimension hovering right above us."
Of course, Kaku points out, this is one of many different theories about dark matter. String theorists think dark matter may be a higher octave of string vibration.
One reason the mirror universe idea is so appealing is the math. Some models suggest a mirror universe would have to have been much cooler than our own during its early evolution. This difference would have made it easier for particles to cross over, resulting in five mirror particles for every regular one. That's roughly the ratio of dark to normal matter.
Scientific models, in the end, must be backed by empirical evidence. We'll have to wait for the results of these and other experiments before determining the probability that a mirror universe exists — let alone if its beard game can match our own.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.