Molecules/Matter & Energy

Particles found surfing on hot plasma, plus spinning atoms and a new deep-Earth mineral in this week’s news

Particles gone surfing Physicists have caught electrons in the act of surfing — not on water, but on hot plasma. German scientists zapped the plasma with a high-intensity laser pulse, then watched as bunches of electrons scooted along a wake left in the plasma by moving electrical charges. The findings, reported online March 13 in Nature Physics , reveal the first time anyone has seen such electron surfing in real time. Future studies could lead to better ways of imaging quickly moving atoms and molecules, the scientists say. — Alexandra Witze Atoms never forget An ensemble of hundreds of spinning atoms arranged like X’s and O’s on a tic-tac-toe board, described in a new paper in the March 17 Nature , could be a way to store information in a quantum computer. Using a laser and microwaves, a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany changed the direction of individual rubidium atoms’ spins without disturbing their neighbors. Patterns of spin states in multiples atoms corresponding to the 0’s and 1’s in a traditional computer could be created and imaged using fluorescence. — Devin Powell Under pressure Scientists have found a new mineral, rich in carbon, iron and magnesium, that possibly exists naturally in the deep Earth. When French researchers ground up and squeezed carbonate rocks, the new mineral appeared at pressures equivalent to depths of 1,800 kilometers. Unusually, it sports rings of pyramids made out of carbon and oxygen atoms, the team reports in a paper to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . — Alexandra Witze

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