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Nuclear Reactors Can Give Us A New Theory Of Time

by hridika ahire
Nuclear Reactors Can Give Us A New Theory Of Time

February 21, 2021

Quantum theories fascinate a lot of geeky and nerdy minds in the most amusing ways. After all, Sheldon's obsession with string theory glued millions of fans to this side of physics for the entire duration of the Big Bang Theory's twelve-year marathon. We can very well say that pop culture today is playing a significant role in enabling us to understand the basics of quantum physics, just recall the Avengers' theory! And now, scientists are using nuclear science to devise a new theory of time!

The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines quantum theory as a physics theory that is based on the concept of the subdivision of radiant energy into infinite quanta and applied to numerous processes involving transference or transformation of power on an atomic or molecular scale.

Now that the definition is out of the way let’s talk about what quantum theory actually is.

In the fascinating realm of quantum mechanics, we study that time is an external concept and, in classical physics, it is the controller of all motion. Time is said to move in one direction only. This asymmetry of time is called the ‘arrow of time’.

To explain the symmetry of time, let’s say you toss a ball upwards. Due to gravity, the ball will slowly stop rising and halt for a small second and then drop down. If you observe this from the opposite direction, it would still appear in the same manner. This is called the T-symmetry.

nuclear-reactor-formerly-known-as-an-atomic-pile-scoolbuzz
Core of CROCUS, a small nuclear reactor used for research at the EPFL in Switzerland

Now, what would happen if all that we have learned so far about time, all that we have been told to believe by great scientists, was not true?

Joan Vaccaro, an Australian physicist at Griffith University, proposed a very controversial theory. But, if right, it could bring about a massive shift in our knowledge of time. Joan Vaccaro has written many papers based on this theory and even presented it at the Women in Physics Canada conference back in 2017.

She proposed a new quantum theory of time where “entropy is more of a symptom of the flow of time and not the root cause, as we have been led to believe”.

She uses the example of a tree blowing in the wind. She says while the tree appears to be shaking, they aren’t the ones who do this independently. The force of wind causes this shaking of the leaves. Here, the tree leaves represent the entropy, and the wind is time-reversal symmetry violation (T- violation).

Arrow-of-Time-scoolbuzz
The beginning of time would be a regular, smooth point of space-time and the universe would have begun its expansion in a very smooth and ordered state.

This analogy represents a split in the idea of spacetime as one single word rather than two different concepts – space and time. The tree in this analogy stands in a place as an everyday object, and it is time that flows around without any change except when in specific cases, it is bent.

Vaccaro proposes that the T- violations are the ones that localise matter in time. Because of these violations, objects don’t just pop-up out of nowhere or just disappear somewhere. Instead, they exist in continuation. She proposes that time does not result from entropy. In fact, it’s the other way around.

Experimental Proof of Theoretical Physics

Her colleague from Griffith University, Prof. Erik Streed, took it upon himself to test Vaccaro’s theory. But to experiment, he needed a source of anti-neutrinos and some atomic clocks. Vaccaro suggested using a nuclear reactor to test her theory.

Streed says, “My colleague’s calculations suggest that neutrinos may have a greater impact on time than we realise.”

Subatomic particles called neutrinos show evidence of time-reversal symmetry violation or T- Violations. Therefore, with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization and the National Measurement Institute (NMI), researchers attempted to measure these T violations from neutrinos.

Neutrino and Anti-Neutrino

Since neutrinos and anti-neutrinos are both produced in a nuclear reactor, the experiment is conducted there. Researchers installed two-timing stations with atomic clocks in the proximity of the reactor. They will collect data from there for six months.

Atomic clocks are often used to test fundamental physics where they detect the minute effects at the quantum scale due to sheer accuracy and precision. Therefore, it is only right that these atomic clocks are used for this possibly mind-blowing experiment, and the NMI provided these clocks for the same.

The team will be using two timing stations, one place about five meters away from the reactor and another ten metes. These stations contain a primary caesium clock, three secondary clocks and the measurement system to compare watches down to under a billionth of a second.

The use of two clocks is crucial in demonstrating the proposed time dilation effect as these two clocks will be running at the same rate.

Neutrino-and-Anti-Neutrino​-scoolbuzz
Neutrinos interact with atoms inside the water, generating flashes of radiation that are picked up by the surrounding sensors and analyzed to determine the neutrinos’ flavors.

Result of Time Measurement

The result will be compared against calculation from the uncertain movement of planets and other celestial objects that orbit the sun. They are similarly affected by the solar neutrino flux.

Vaccaro herself says that she might be wrong and that her statement is controversial, but how will we learn if we don’t question anything? She advises young people to look for anomalies that people don’t even realise are anomalies and work on them to satisfy their curious minds.

Whether her theory will prove to be true is a big question, but even if it isn’t, we will find something that will help us study time more accurately.

That is why never keep your doubts unresolved. Always clarify them, because you never know when your doubt might lead you to a massive discovery.

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