Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Electrons are Round! Who Knew?

Cosmic Log - by Alan Boyle

The most precise measurements of the electron ever made suggest that it's perfectly spherical to an accuracy of less than 0.000000000000000000000000001 centimeter — a tiny, tiny number that physicists say can make a big difference in the nature of the cosmos.

In this case, we're actually talking about the "shape" of the electron's interactions with electric fields rather than whether it's a non-spatial point particle or a tiny vibrating string. Those concepts are fine in other contexts, but for the laser experiment conducted by researchers at Imperial College London, size (and shape) matters. The measurements, which were 10 years in the making, are reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

If the physicists had seen an irregularity in the electric dipole moment — that is, the orientation of the electron as it spins in an electric field — that would have lent support to some of the non-standard models in particle physics. One example is the idea that an extra supersymmetric particle (a.k.a. "sparticle") exists for every particle we know about in the standard model. Another example is the view that the interactions involving matter are just slightly different from interactions involving antimatter ... which would explain why we see virtually no antimatter in the universe around us.

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