Researchers have recently announced the discovery of the coldest chemical reaction in the known universe, which could pave the way to a better understanding of how matter reacts and behaves at these temperatures.
This reaction took place around a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero, around 500 nanokelvin, where molecules and atoms tend to slow down almost to the point of stopping.
Trundling molecules aren’t typically good for observing chemical reactions however the Harvard University led team had the chance to observe something that’s hitherto never observed – the moment when two molecules meet and form another molecule, by reducing the temperature and the speed of the molecules that are interacting.
Physicist Ming-Guang Hu, from Harvard University, has said that they could possibly be the only lab in the world to achieve this feat and was distended with pride of their team’s accomplishment.
As normal chemical reactions take place extremely fast, on the order of a picosecond, attempting to capture the reaction as it happens proves to be insuperable as even ultra-fast lasers capture only the beginning and the byproduct of the reaction, failing to capture what happens in the interesting in-between.
In order to capture the essence of what happens during a chemical reaction, slowing the molecules down almost to the point of stopping, will provide them the requisite time and window to observe what’s exactly going on.
The temperatures that we can create can be asymptotic towards absolute zero, never quite reaching the coldest temperate in the universe. The molecules at these low temperatures would have minimum kinetic energy and hence the reactions will be much slower.
The researchers used two Potassium Rubidium molecules and slowed down their reaction times to microseconds by decreasing the temperature almost to absolute zero, and were able to observe the reaction through a technique known as photoionization detection that provided them with the data that they can subsequently use to test their models.
By studying them at close quarters, we could design new reactions as there are endless number of combinations that could be fathomed, which could be useful in varied disciplines like quantum computing and material science.
Researcher Kang-Kuen Ni has been at it for the past few years to observe what happens at these incredibly small scales and to see if these chemical reactions can be dirigible.
They are investigating ways by which they can manipulate these reactions, by either changing the energies before the reaction or by goading the molecules to change course during the reaction itself.
By reducing the temperature and slowing down these molecules, the researchers have enough time to be able to control them by influencing them. This research was published in Science.