Krauss on Science

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Arizona State University Physicist Lawrence Krauss brings us up to date on the latest science news.

Ted Simons: ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss joins us each month to discuss the latest in science news, which this month includes giant telescopes, gamma rays and what could be the discovery of a new state of matter. Here now is the suddenly hirsute Lawrence Lauren. What's with the facial --

Lawrence Krauss: What can I say? I thought I'd try the villain look. My evil twin from another dimension.

Ted Simons: We'll see how the twin does. And by the way, do all these things -- the giant Magellan, the extremely large --

Lawrence Krauss: You run out of simple names after a while.

Lawrence Krauss: I want to say that today all the topics come under the general guise of, There are more things in Heaven or earth than are dreamt of in your imagination. I'm going to take a minute to say, what we just heard was amazing and saves people's lives. The important thing is, this began as fundamental research. And that's the important thing. You never know where it's going to lead. We will talk about some things that are pretty esoteric but you never know where it's going to lead.

Ted Simons: Giant Magellan telescope.

Lawrence Krauss: GMT, you get Greenwich Mean Time. That telescope and one of a bunch. We are on the threshold of a new generation of telescopes. I remember when I was growing up and even when you were growing up there was the largest telescope in the world was a -inch Mount Palimar telescope. Right through the s, people thought that would be the largest telescope anyone could ever build. And now the giant Magellan telescope has now just announced internally they are going begin construction. It's a huge telescope with seven large Eight-meter mirrors. It's like a telescope that's meters across, almost feet across. It'll have the Resolution of times the Hubble space telescope. In the s we built the first eight-mirror scope. The giant Magellan telescope is just one of in four different telescopes to meters across, that are going to be so much more powerful than telescopes that have existed before. Not only can we now build these huge mirrors, before people thought the gravity, the memorials were so heavy it could cause the mirrors to sag. You couldn't build one of the right curvature and that's why. They thought the Hale telescope was the largest. People said you can't build them that big because the atmosphere is so turbulent the telescopes won't work. What's really neat, this was actually developed here in Arizona. You can see the light bouncing to a secondary mirror on the top. Those secondary mirrors are actually flexibility mirrors. The telescope sends lasers at the sky, find out the way it works. These things get rid of the effects of the atmospheric, it's amazing.

Ted Simons: Like a gyroscope.

Lawrence Krauss: It gets rid of the twinkle stars have. Telescopes like this are becoming practical. There's a generation, the GMT is supposed to start operation . It's a whole new generation of money. Each of these telescopes costs $ billion. But they will allow us to resolve planets around stars and who knows what else. They will allow to us see things we've never seen before.

Ok so that's the bottom line there. Now, the other telescope, the Large Area telescope, ASU is connected, well U of A is connected with the Magellan, now ASU is connected with the Large Area telescope. Supernovas, novas, what's going on?

Lawrence Krauss: The Large Area telescope is part of the satellite called the Fermi satellite. It goes around and looked at the universe's gamma rays. They are incredibly energetic radiation. You have ultraviolet radiation, why you wear a hat in Arizona. And then X-rays. But gamma rays are still more energetic. What's amazing is the universe is full of incredibly energetic radiation. A lot of times we don't know what's producing that. Novae are not super novae. That's what happens when a star blows up, when it literally blows up the star and it's responsible for you and I being here. A nova is a little less fancy, but what it is, when a white dwarf, a very compact star at the end of its life basically, has a nearby star, and draws material from that near star on it, hydrogen. The density and pressures are such that hydrogen can heat up and suddenly erupt in a thermonuclear explosion. It doesn't blow up the star, just the surface of the star. Only one one- thousandth or maybe less of the material of the star actually explodes. But it will still produce something like times the energy produced by the sun each year. People thought that's night but it's not a supernova and not enough energy to reduce gamma rays. A colleague of mine at ASU was using this gamma ray telescope, the large area telescope and discovered gamma rays coming from that nova. Two years later they saw two others. We don't have the slightest idea of how such a pitifully small explosion would be enough to destroy us or the rest of the earth. It's a total mystery.

Ted Simons: It's a surprising discovery.

Lawrence Krauss: It's a surprise. I told you, more things in heaven and earth.

Ted Simons: Alright, so know you got this gamma ray that you can't figure out quite about the novae or super novae. What is a droppeltong?

Lawrence Krauss: It's a name and a not very good name given to a new kind of matter that's sort of been even. People are able to manipulate materials on smaller and smaller scales. We're discovering the quantum nature of materials is quite exciting. Quantum mechanics is important to materials, as we said before. But we can now create very exotic quantum states by shooting lasers at material like semiconductors. There's an item called an exton when you knock an electron into a semiconductor, it still stays there it hasn't gone out and bound any atoms. But sort of where it left doesn't have an electron anymore and there's one less negative charge. It's kind of gets attracted to that region because all around it are other electrons. This region has one less electron and it looks like an electron hole pair. It acts like a particle called an exotons. Well, shooting lasers to produce exotons, a group has discovered if you shine a laser light short enough, you produce enough of these exotons that what happens is they kind of merge together in a new kind of liquid. A fog of electrons and holes. Not individual exotons. They call that a droppeltong.

Ted Simons: This is happening at a submicroscopic level.

Lawrence Krauss: At a submicroscopic level! This thing lasts a few trillionths of a second. Now that may not seem very long but on an atomic scale it's incredibly long. Now, what can you do with this stuff? Well I know what you can do with the exotons but with the droppeltongs I don't have any idea. But we didn't know that a group of exotons could make a liquid. Will this be used for new kinds of storage or computing? We don't know. It's a new matter that is exotic and we would have never guessed it could have existed without these experiments. I don't know and you don't, but maybe it'll be used to power your telephone.

Ted Simons: Getting it to last a little longer might be a good first step?
Lawrence Krauss: Well, a trillionth of a second is incredibly long on an atomic scale. Many elementary particles probably last a billionth of a -- of a second. But you're right, making it last longer would be very important. It's the same thing we're trying to do in quantum computers. Create these exotic states, that normally last just a trillionth of a second but if you want to do some computing with them you'll have to make them last longer. That's the kind of research that's going to happen to see if we can make it practical. But first to discover such a weird state is the first step. Where it goes, nobody knows.

Ted Simons: So we got the the droppeltongs and excitons. The excitons were kinda old news but the droppeltongs brand new thing there.

Lawrence Krauss: We never talked about excitons, even though they were exciting.

Ted Simons: Apparently. We got the Magellan telescope and the Large Area telescope. We didn't talk about Europe's extremely large telescopes.

Lawrence Krauss: I've lost track, there are probably four of them being built in it. It's even bigger in Hawaii. They are raising the money and each costs about 8 hundred million to a billion dollars. They will real toss things, well maybe I'll be back in 2025 and we can have a chat about it.

Ted Simons: Only if you keep that beard.

Lawrence Krauss: The reviews online have been pretty good.

Ted Simons: Good to see you again.

Ted Simons: All right. Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon" Phoenix is gearing up for an expansion of light-rail street improvements. How a loaner of an Arizona clothing company is providing for basic needs. That is it for now.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Lawrence Krauss:Physicist, Arizona State University;

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