According to new research by Austrian scientists published in the latest edition of the journal Science, quantum particles can tunnel through long-range impassable barriers even though their energy won’t allow for the corresponding trajectory. Known as the quantum tunnel effect, it manifests itself in numerous known phenomena.
For instance, it explains electron transport through quantum dots, fusion reactions inside stars and nuclear radioactive decay. Tunneling is also an essential part of numerous technical processes. For example, it facilitates the imaging of exteriors on the atomic length scale in STMs (scanning tunneling microscopes).
Up to this point, the tunneling process only involved one particle tunneling through a single barrier. Hanns-Christoph Nägerl and a team of researchers at the Institute for Experimental Physics of the University of Innsbruck, in Innsbruck, Austria recently learned of a process for quantum particles to pass through as many as five different barriers simultaneously via an effect called Bose enhancement.
They created what they call “a physical quantum simulator” that can imitate other quantum systems. They cooled cesium atoms to almost absolute zero or -459.67 degrees F. They next put the atoms in an essential optical lattice created with multiple intersecting beams from “high-intensity lasers.” At this low temperature the various random movements of the atoms ceases almost entirely resulting in no energy being left for the atoms to move other than through the use of quantum tunneling.
Nägerl and his group applied a force which to some degree altered the energy landscape, tilting the board to permit the quantum particles to travel down it. The investigators however didn’t discover that the particles were tunneling through a single barrier but instead witnessed multiple particles moving through five different barriers.
Nägerl stated: “Very similar to a massive object moving in the Earth’s gravitational field, the tunneling atoms should lose potential energy when they move down the washboard.” He concluded that only additional research can reveal the full potential of this new discovery.