Politicians will tell you three things. Memories generally last three seconds. Disasters come in threes, according to the old wives’ tale. The rule of three has become something akin to a social law of gravity — as if the number is behind everything. Forget pairs. They’re old pat. And 42? We still don’t know the question.
Comedians insist three is the best pattern to exploit perceptions and deliver punchlines; three features prominently in titles, such as The Three Little Pigs, Three Musketeers, Goldilocks and the Three Bears; even the Romans believed three was the ultimate number: “Omne trium perfectum” was their mantra — everything that comes in threes is perfect.
Now, it seems Mother Nature may also think in threes. Especially at the very edge of physics — quantum mechanics. A Soviet nuclear physicist first proposed the idea back in the 1970s — and was met with derision.
For 45 years number-crunchers around the world have been attempting to topple Vitaly Efimov’s idea and prove his equations wrong. They’ve failed; and his “outlandish” theory is now on the point of being proven.
Most importantly, Efimov felt that sets of three particles could arrange themselves in an infinite, layered pattern. What form these layers take helps determine the makeup of matter itself. Jump forward four decades, and technological advances now allow his groups of three quantum particles to be studied and manipulated.
The quantum condition — now known as Efimov’s state — is visible only under supremely cold conditions. Matter, when chilled to a few billionths of a degree above Absolute Zero, does strange things…
If you want the technical details, read Quanta Magazine’s article which examines the recent research papers. But the behaviour of the particle trios is best summarised by physics professor Randy Hulet’s comment:
“It’s like layers of an onion…. You see molecules at one layer. Peel the layer away, and you see that there’s a molecule there 22.7 times smaller. Every time you peel away a layer, you find another molecule.”
And guess which number appears to be proving his theory?
You guessed it: Three independent research groups in three different countries have now found Efimov’s predictions to be correct.
The upshot: We are now on the brink of a better understanding of how the universe works.
It’s all about a Russian-Doll-style progression of trios of particles, infinitely extending from the tiny quantum scale to that of the universe — and beyond.
It’s also an insight into how the insane world of quantum particles transforms into the predictable universe we inhabit.
“We are very excited about this result,” one researcher said. “In the complicated molecular world, there’s a new law.”
By Jamie Seidel, News Corp Australia;