Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Matter


It is believed that not all quantum systems can be simulated efficiently using classical computational resources. This notion is supported by the fact that it is not known how to express the partition function in a sign-free manner in quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) simulations for a large number of important problems. The answer to the question-whether there is a fundamental obstruction to such a sign-free representation in generic quantum systems-remains unclear. Focusing on systems with bosonic degrees of freedom, we show that quantized gravitational responses appear as obstructions to local sign-free QMC. In condensed matter physics settings, these responses, such as thermal Hall conductance, are associated with fractional quantum Hall effects. We show that similar arguments also hold in the case of spontaneously broken time-reversal (TR) symmetry such as in the chiral phase of a perturbed quantum Kagome antiferromagnet. The connection between quantized gravitational responses and the sign problem is also manifested in certain vertex models, where TR symmetry is preserved.

Concepts: Chemistry, Matter, Quantum mechanics, Fundamental physics concepts, Quantum field theory, Physics, Quantum Hall effect, Condensed matter physics


The spectrum of the hydrogen atom has played a central part in fundamental physics in the past 200 years. Historical examples of its significance include the wavelength measurements of absorption lines in the solar spectrum by Fraunhofer, the identification of transition lines by Balmer, Lyman et al., the empirical description of allowed wavelengths by Rydberg, the quantum model of Bohr, the capability of quantum electrodynamics to precisely predict transition frequencies, and modern measurements of the 1S-2S transition by Hänsch(1) to a precision of a few parts in 10(15). Recently, we have achieved the technological advances to allow us to focus on antihydrogen-the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen(2,3,4). The Standard Model predicts that there should have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter in the primordial Universe after the Big Bang, but today’s Universe is observed to consist almost entirely of ordinary matter. This motivates physicists to carefully study antimatter, to see if there is a small asymmetry in the laws of physics that govern the two types of matter. In particular, the CPT (charge conjugation, parity reversal, time reversal) Theorem, a cornerstone of the Standard Model, requires that hydrogen and antihydrogen have the same spectrum. Here we report the observation of the 1S-2S transition in magnetically trapped atoms of antihydrogen in the ALPHA-2 apparatus at CERN. We determine that the frequency of the transition, driven by two photons from a laser at 243 nm, is consistent with that expected for hydrogen in the same environment. This laser excitation of a quantum state of an atom of antimatter represents a highly precise measurement performed on an anti-atom. Our result is consistent with CPT invariance at a relative precision of ~2 × 10(-10).

Concepts: Particle physics, Standard Model, Electron, Matter, Photon, Atom, Quantum mechanics, Quantum field theory


The cosmic radio-frequency spectrum is expected to show a strong absorption signal corresponding to the 21-centimetre-wavelength transition of atomic hydrogen around redshift 20, which arises from Lyman-α radiation from some of the earliest stars. By observing this 21-centimetre signal-either its sky-averaged spectrum or maps of its fluctuations, obtained using radio interferometers-we can obtain information about cosmic dawn, the era when the first astrophysical sources of light were formed. The recent detection of the global 21-centimetre spectrum reveals a stronger absorption than the maximum predicted by existing models, at a confidence level of 3.8 standard deviations. Here we report that this absorption can be explained by the combination of radiation from the first stars and excess cooling of the cosmic gas induced by its interaction with dark matter. Our analysis indicates that the spatial fluctuations of the 21-centimetre signal at cosmic dawn could be an order of magnitude larger than previously expected and that the dark-matter particle is no heavier than several proton masses, well below the commonly predicted mass of weakly interacting massive particles. Our analysis also confirms that dark matter is highly non-relativistic and at least moderately cold, and primordial velocities predicted by models of warm dark matter are potentially detectable. These results indicate that 21-centimetre cosmology can be used as a dark-matter probe.

Concepts: Universe, Physics, Mass, General relativity, Matter, Atom, Dark matter, Particle physics


Spontaneous symmetry breaking is a fundamental concept in many areas of physics, including cosmology, particle physics and condensed matter. An example is the breaking of spatial translational symmetry, which underlies the formation of crystals and the phase transition from liquid to solid. Using the analogy of crystals in space, the breaking of translational symmetry in time and the emergence of a ‘time crystal’ was recently proposed, but was later shown to be forbidden in thermal equilibrium. However, non-equilibrium Floquet systems, which are subject to a periodic drive, can exhibit persistent time correlations at an emergent subharmonic frequency. This new phase of matter has been dubbed a ‘discrete time crystal’. Here we present the experimental observation of a discrete time crystal, in an interacting spin chain of trapped atomic ions. We apply a periodic Hamiltonian to the system under many-body localization conditions, and observe a subharmonic temporal response that is robust to external perturbations. The observation of such a time crystal opens the door to the study of systems with long-range spatio-temporal correlations and novel phases of matter that emerge under intrinsically non-equilibrium conditions.

Concepts: Phase, Time, Matter, Chemistry, Physics, Quantum mechanics, Condensed matter physics, Fundamental physics concepts


Hyaluronan (or hyaluronic acid, HA) is a ubiquitous molecule that plays critical roles in numerous physiological functions in vivo, including tissue hydration, inflammation, and joint lubrication. Both the abundance and size distribution of HA in biological fluids are recognized as robust indicators of various pathologies and disease progressions. However, such analyses remain challenging because conventional methods are not sufficiently sensitive, have limited dynamic range, and/or are only semi-quantitative. Here we demonstrate label-free detection and molecular weight discrimination of HA with a solid-state nanopore sensor. We first employ synthetic HA polymers to validate the measurement approach and then use the platform to determine the size distribution of as little as 10 ng of HA extracted directly from synovial fluid in an equine model of osteoarthritis. Our results establish a quantitative method for assessment of a significant molecular biomarker that bridges a gap in the current state of the art.

Concepts: Matter, Scientific method, Oxygen, Electron, Biology, Molecule, Hyaluronan, Synovial fluid


Quantum computers can be used to address electronic-structure problems and problems in materials science and condensed matter physics that can be formulated as interacting fermionic problems, problems which stretch the limits of existing high-performance computers. Finding exact solutions to such problems numerically has a computational cost that scales exponentially with the size of the system, and Monte Carlo methods are unsuitable owing to the fermionic sign problem. These limitations of classical computational methods have made solving even few-atom electronic-structure problems interesting for implementation using medium-sized quantum computers. Yet experimental implementations have so far been restricted to molecules involving only hydrogen and helium. Here we demonstrate the experimental optimization of Hamiltonian problems with up to six qubits and more than one hundred Pauli terms, determining the ground-state energy for molecules of increasing size, up to BeH2. We achieve this result by using a variational quantum eigenvalue solver (eigensolver) with efficiently prepared trial states that are tailored specifically to the interactions that are available in our quantum processor, combined with a compact encoding of fermionic Hamiltonians and a robust stochastic optimization routine. We demonstrate the flexibility of our approach by applying it to a problem of quantum magnetism, an antiferromagnetic Heisenberg model in an external magnetic field. In all cases, we find agreement between our experiments and numerical simulations using a model of the device with noise. Our results help to elucidate the requirements for scaling the method to larger systems and for bridging the gap between key problems in high-performance computing and their implementation on quantum hardware.

Concepts: Physics, Quantum field theory, Magnetism, Chemistry, Matter, Spin, Quantum mechanics, Condensed matter physics


Several new genomics technologies have become available that offer long-read sequencing or long-range mapping with higher throughput and higher resolution analysis than ever before. These long-range technologies are rapidly advancing the field with improved reference genomes, more comprehensive variant identification and more complete views of transcriptomes and epigenomes. However, they also require new bioinformatics approaches to take full advantage of their unique characteristics while overcoming their complex errors and modalities. Here, we discuss several of the most important applications of the new technologies, focusing on both the currently available bioinformatics tools and opportunities for future research.

Concepts: Matter, First-order logic, Genome, Logic, Genomics, Dark matter, Bioinformatics


The superposition principle is fundamental to the quantum description of both light and matter. Recently, a number of experiments have sought to directly test this principle using coherent light, single photons, and nuclear spin states. We extend these experiments to massive particles for the first time. We compare the interference patterns arising from a beam of large dye molecules diffracting at single, double, and triple slit material masks to place limits on any high-order, or multipath, contributions. We observe an upper bound of less than one particle in a hundred deviating from the expectations of quantum mechanics over a broad range of transverse momenta and de Broglie wavelength.

Concepts: Matter, Albert Einstein, Wave, Particle physics, Physics, Quantum mechanics, Photon, Electron


A central and long-standing tenet in the conceptualization of animal swimming is the idea that propulsive thrust is generated by pushing the surrounding water rearward. Inherent in this perspective is the assumption that locomotion involves the generation of locally elevated pressures in the fluid to achieve the expected downstream push of the surrounding water mass. Here we show that rather than pushing against the surrounding fluid, efficient swimming animals primarily pull themselves through the water via suction. This distinction is manifested in dominant low-pressure regions generated in the fluid surrounding the animal body, which are observed by using particle image velocimetry and a pressure calculation algorithm applied to freely swimming lampreys and jellyfish. These results suggest a rethinking of the evolutionary adaptations observed in swimming animals as well as the mechanistic basis for bio-inspired and biomimetic engineered vehicles.

Concepts: Ctenophora, Ontology, Cnidaria, Matter, Atmospheric pressure, Fluid dynamics, Animal, Fish


The identification of beverages that promote longer-term fluid retention and maintenance of fluid balance is of real clinical and practical benefit in situations in which free access to fluids is limited or when frequent breaks for urination are not desirable. The postingestion diuretic response is likely to be influenced by several beverage characteristics, including the volume ingested, energy density, electrolyte content, and the presence of diuretic agents.

Concepts: Water, Energy density, Fundamental physics concepts, Matter, Energy, Liquid, Density