Observations made with NIST’s Electron Beam Ion Trap indicate that in ions with a strongly positive charge, electrons can behave in ways inconsistent with quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory, which describes electromagnetism. While more experiments are needed, the data could imply that some aspects of QED theory require revision. Credit: NIST

New experiments challenge fundamental understanding of electromagnetism

November 28, 2012

(Phys.org)—A cornerstone of physics may require a rethink if findings at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are confirmed. Recent experiments suggest that the most rigorous predictions based on the fundamental theory of electromagnetism—one of the four fundamental forces in the universe, and harnessed in all electronic devices—may not accurately account for the behavior of atoms in exotic, highly charged states.

The theory in question is known as quantum electrodynamics, or QED, which physicists have held in high regard for decades because of its excellent track record describing electromagnetism’s effects on matter. In particular, QED has been especially useful in explaining the behavior of electrons, which orbit every atomic nucleus. But for all of QED’s successes, there are reasons to believe that QED may not provide a complete picture of reality, so scientists have looked for opportunities to test it to ever-increasing precision.

Read more: New experiments challenge fundamental understanding of electromagnetism — phys.org .

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