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Physicists smash particle imitators

‘Quasiparticle’ collider could help devise better materials for solar cells, electronics

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1:00pm, May 11, 2016
illustration of quasiparticle collider

PARTICLE IMPERSONATOR Scientists have made the first quasiparticle collider, which smashes together faux-particles that appear in solids. In this illustration, quasiparticles (red and blue lines) collide head-on in a solid material (grid of spheres) releasing a burst of light.

Physicists of all stripes seem to have one thing in common: They love smashing things together. This time-honored tradition has now been expanded from familiar particles like electrons, protons, and atomic nuclei to quasiparticles, which act like particles, but aren’t.

Quasiparticles are formed from groups of particles in a solid material that collectively behave like a unified particle (SN: 10/18/14, p. 22). The first quasiparticle collider, described May 11 in Nature, allows scientists to probe the faux-particles’ behavior. It’s a tool that could potentially lead researchers to improved materials for solar cells and electronics applications.

“Colliding particles is really something that has taught us so much,” says physicist Peter Hommelhoff of the University of

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