The theory combines the ideas of particles and waves into a concentration of energy that flows throughout space and time.
The researchers used the theory to answer two problems solved by Einstein.
Embrace the flow, says a duo of mechanical engineers at North Carolina State University—the flow of energy, that is. The mantra you might normally hear from your yoga instructor could be an entirely new way of looking at the universe.
🌌 The universe is badass. Let's explore it together.
The two theorists, Larry Silverberg and Jeffrey Eischen, suggest that fragments of energy, rather than waves or particles, may be the fundamental building blocks of the universe.
The bedrock of their theory is the foundational idea that energy is always flowing through space and time. The authors suggest thinking of energy as lines that enter and exit a region of space, never crossing each other, and with no beginning or end point.
“Working from the idea of a universe of flowing energy lines, we looked for a single building block for the flowing energy,” Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, writes in The Conversation. “If we could find and define such a thing, we hoped we could use it to accurately make predictions about the universe at the largest and tiniest scales.”
What's the Matter?
In the 4th century B.C., the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, formulated the idea that the universe was composed of five building blocks of matter: earth, water, air, fire, and the heavenly aether. This idea persisted for more than 2,000 years, and plagued the countless alchemists who tried to strike it rich by transmuting earth into gold.
Coincidentally, it was also an alchemist who unseated the ideas of Aristotle from their throne. Robert Boyle, the famed “father” of chemistry, abandoned the classic elements in favor of the idea that all matter was composed of particles. This revolutionary idea led to one of the most explosive periods in the history of science, including Sir Isaac Newton's formulation of classical mechanics.
The particle was now the king of the scientific universe, and it would reign for another 150 years until Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell introduced electromagnetic waves to the equation.
Together, particles and waves became the known building blocks of all matter. Particles served as the individual bricks, as matter existing at a single point in space. Electromagnetic waves made up the mortar holding it all together, as energy dissipating everywhere in space as waves.
Separating matter into both particles and waves made predictions easier for physicists because they could easily describe the behavior of particles and waves. But nothing comes easy in physics, and the theory was quickly flipped on its head.
Early in the 20th century, the famous double-slit experiment showed that particles and waves weren't nearly as distinct as we previously thought. The experiment revealed that particles, at times, could act like waves, and light could sometimes act like particles.
The Best Microscopes for Every Age
Around the same time minds were exploding over the wave-particle duality of matter, Albert Einstein was formulating his theory of general relativity, which describes how warping the fabric of space and time causes gravity. Together, the discoveries shaped the course of modern physics, but the connections between the two phenomena remain unclear.
The Fragment of Energy
“Using newer mathematical tools, my colleague and I have demonstrated a new theory that may accurately describe the universe. Instead of basing the theory on the warping of space and time, we considered that there could be a building block that is more fundamental than the particle and the wave,” Silverberg writes.
He and Eischen looked for a solution that had features of both particles and waves. They wanted to find a building block that was both concentrated like a particle and spread out like a wave. Their answer is what they call a fragment of energy.
The fragment of energy is a lot like stars in a distant galaxy. From afar, a galaxy looks like a bright glow of light radiating outwards. But on closer inspection, astronomers can resolve individual stars making up the galaxy. In the same sense, the fragment of energy represents a concentration of energy that flows and dissipates outward, away from the center.
With their new building block, the scientists formulated a new set of equations to solve physics problems. They tested their theory on two problems solved by Einstein more than a century ago.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed by two observations made by astronomers. The first was a tiny annual shift in the orbit of Mercury. Einstein accurately predicted that the curvature of spacetime caused by the mass of the sun would cause Mercury's orbit to wobble over time. The second was the bending of light as it passes across warped space and time near to the sun.
“If our new theory was to have a chance at replacing the particle and the wave with the presumably more fundamental fragment, we would have to be able to solve these problems with our theory, too,” Silverberg writes.
To solve the Mercury problem, Silverberg and Eischen modeled the sun as a massive fragment of energy, with Mercury as a smaller fragment of energy orbiting around it. In the bending of light problem, the sun was modeled identically, but the light was modeled as a massless point traveling at the speed of light (a photon). After calculating the paths of the moving fragments of energy, the researchers got the same answers as Einstein.
The solutions show how effective their new building block can be at modeling the behavior of matter from the micro to macroscopic scale. Although their formulation may not exactly change physics like the discoveries of Maxwell and Einstein, the theory could make the wave-particle duality of matter more intuitive, and give a new way of thinking about the universe.
You Might Also Like