Experiments tested whether electrons could escape an atom instantaneously
Quantum particles can burrow through barriers that should be impenetrable — but they don’t do it instantaneously, a new experiment suggests.
The process, known as quantum tunneling, takes place extremely quickly, making it difficult to confirm whether it takes any time at all. Now, in a study of electrons escaping from their atoms, scientists have pinpointed how long the particles take to tunnel out: around 100 attoseconds, or 100 billionths of a billionth of a second, researchers report July 14 in Physical Review Letters.
In quantum tunneling, a particle passes through a barrier despite not having enough energy to cross it. It’s as if someone rolled a ball up a hill but didn’t give it a hard enough push to reach the top, and yet somehow the ball tunneled through to the other side.
Although scientists knew that particles could tunnel, until now,