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Symmetry found hidden in supercold atoms

Complex E8 patterns detected in physical system

By
4:15pm, January 7, 2010

A beautiful math emerges from the acrobatic flips of supercold atoms in a magnetic field, researchers report in the Jan. 8 Science.

Scientists detected an elusive, complex symmetry known as the E8 Lie group in resonating particles, a symmetry long analyzed on paper but never seen in a physical system. The work suggests that this numerical grace may be hidden in other physical systems and may provide a mathematical link between quantum processes in condensed matter and the physics of the cosmos.

“Finding a mathematically exotic symmetry in a regular material we can find on Earth — well, it is mathematically beautiful and very interesting,” comments Robert Konik of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. Symmetries helped theoretical physicists to predict the existence of certain particles before they were detected and to explain phenomena such as superconductivity. E8 in particular may help describe the unseen dimensions in string t

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