Graphene is used to generate matter and antimatter from the vacuum

Graphene can be used to mimic the production of particles and antiparticles that occurs in the vacuum surrounding neutron stars. It generates supraluminal electrons that provide an electrical current greater than that allowed by the quantum physics of condensed matter.

Researchers at the University of Manchester have managed to generate pairs of particles and antiparticles from the vacuum, by recreating in graphene the same cosmic force present in neutron stars.

Although it is considered empty, in reality the space is full of elementary particles that are obtained by the electric or magnetic fields that cross it.

In order to generate particles, these force fields that cross the vacuum have cosmic intensities, such as the fields that are created around neutron stars or those that arise temporarily during particle collisions.

Physicists around the world have been trying for years to test these theoretical predictions and several experiments with particle colliders are planned to verify that the cosmic processes for the creation of matter occur spontaneously in a vacuum.

powerful graphene

What the new research, led by 2000 Nobel laureate in Physics Andre Geim, has done is use graphene to mimic the production of electron-positron pairs that occurs in a vacuum. The results have been published in the journal Science.

The team of researchers, also made up of scientists from the United Kingdom, Spain (Institute of Photonic Sciences of Casteldefels), the United States and Japan, used graphene devices to achieve exceptionally strong electric fields from a simple configuration.

The researchers were able to clearly observe the spontaneous production of electron-hole pairs (holes are a solid-state analogue of positrons) and found that the details of the process match perfectly with theoretical predictions of particle formation in a vacuum.

another surprise

The scientists also observed another unusual high-energy process that so far has no analogies in particle physics and astrophysics.

They filled their simulated vacuum with electrons and accelerated them to the maximum speed allowed by the graphene vacuum, which is 1/300 the speed of light.

At this point, something seemingly impossible happened: the electrons seemed to become supraluminal, providing an electrical current greater than that allowed by the general rules of quantum physics of condensed matter.

The origin of this effect was explained as the spontaneous generation of additional charge carriers. The theoretical description of this process, provided by the research team, is quite different from that known so far for empty space.

To the limit

“People often study electronic properties using tiny electric fields that allow for easier analysis and theoretical description. We decided to boost the strength of the electric fields as much as possible using different experimental tricks so as not to burn out our devices”, explains the first author of the article, Dr. Alexey Berduygin, in a release.

Co-lead author Dr. Na Xin adds: “We just wondered what could happen at this end. To our surprise, the Schwinger effect emerged.”

The Schwinger effect is a physical phenomenon according to which matter is created by a strong electric field. It is a prediction of quantum electrodynamics (QED).

Beyond superconductivity

Dr. Roshan Krishna Kumar, another prominent contributor, said: “When we first saw the spectacular features of our devices, we discovered that the puzzling behavior (of the supraluminal electrons) was not superconductivity, but something between the astrophysics and particle physics. It is curious to see so many parallels between distant disciplines”.

The results of this research are also important for the development of future electronic devices based on two-dimensional quantum materials, and set limits on wiring made of graphene, which was already known for its remarkable ability to withstand ultra-high electrical currents. researchers.


Out-of-equilibrium criticalities in graphene superlattices. Alexei I. Berdyugin et al. SCIENCE, 27 Jan 2022, Vol 375, Issue 6579, p. 430-433. DOI: 10.1126/science.abi8627

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Graphene is used to generate matter and antimatter from the vacuum