Before it is observed, an electron is a total mass of possibility, but researchers have striven to see the way it settles on a definite position around an atom. Now, a team of scientists has reportedly managed to do so.
By capturing a set of snapshots of a strontium ion kept in an electric field, a team of physicists from Sweden, Germany, and Spain have discovered that an electron’s transition from a state of ‘maybe’ to ‘reality’ is an all or nothing case.
“Whenever we measure the orbit of the electron, the measurement will answer that the electron was either in a lower or higher orbit, never something in between,” says Stockholm University physicist Fabian Pokorny. “The measurement in a sense forces the electron to decide in which of the two states it is.”
Snapping many photons as the strontium ion is changed into various states with individual laser, offered the team an idea on the process’s evolution as it happened throughout a period of a millionth of a second.
The Transition is Smooth
The team discovered that the transition of the quantum system from uncertainty is not a complete case. Some aspects of it can be calculated, such as the last resting place of the electron. Still, it also leaves some attributes of its superposition unstirred and undecided, just how Lüders has suggested.
“These findings shed new light onto the inner workings of nature and are consistent with the predictions of modern quantum physics,” says lead researcher Markus Hennrich, also a physicist from Stockholm University.
That is not instantaneous, though, the team noted in their paper. By capturing snapshots of the atom while one of its electrons takes a precise orbit, the researchers depicted the change is unfolding, as if the shift from particular uncertainty onto a particular trajectory is a matter of increasing probability, instead of an immediate decision. This research was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.