Particle physics laboratory

Physicists discover a method to emulate nonlinear quantum electrodynamics in the lab

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On the big screen, in video games, and in our imaginations, lightsabers blaze and clasp when they collide. In reality, like in a laser light show, the beams of light pass through each other, creating spider web patterns. This clash, or interference, only happens in fiction – and in places with huge magnetic and electric fields, which only happens in nature near massive objects like neutron stars. Here, the strong magnetic or electric field reveals that the vacuum is not really a vacuum. Instead, here, when the light beams intersect, they scatter into rainbows. A weak version of this effect has been observed in modern particle accelerators, but it is completely absent in our daily lives or even normal laboratory environments. Yuli Lyanda-Geller, professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University’s College of Science, working with Aydin Keser and Oleg Sushkov of the University of New South Wales in Australia, discovered that it is possible to produce this effect in a class of new materials involving bismuth, its solid solutions with antimony and tantalum arsenide. With this knowledge, the effect can be studied, potentially leading to much more sensitive sensors as well as supercapacitors for energy storage that could be turned on and off by a controlled magnetic field.

“Most importantly, one of the deepest quantum mysteries in the universe can be tested and studied in a small lab experiment,” Lyanda-Geller said. “With these materials, we can study the effects of the universe. We can study what happens in neutron stars from our laboratories.

Professor Purdue’s Expertise

Yuli Lyanda-Geller is an expert in mesoscopic physics and interference phenomena, optical phenomena in nanostructures, and quantum information physics.


Physical examination letters. The paper is available online.


US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences; Materials Science and Engineering Division; and the Australian Research Council, Center of Excellence in Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies

Brief summary of methods

Keser, Lyanda-Geller and Sushkov applied non-perturbative methods of quantum field theory used to describe high-energy particles and developed them to analyze the behavior of so-called Dirac materials, which have recently become the focus of interest . They used the expansion to obtain results that both go beyond known high-energy results and the general framework of condensed matter and material physics. They suggested various experimental setups with applied electric and magnetic fields and analyzed the best materials that would allow them to experimentally study this quantum electrodynamic effect in a non-accelerating environment. They later discovered that their results better explained certain magnetic phenomena that had been observed and studied in previous experiments.

Writer/media contact: Brittany Steff, [email protected]

Source: Yuli Lyanda-Geller, [email protected]