Aug. 14 (UPI) -- A physicist in New Zealand has measured the energy difference between two quantum states in a helium atom.
The measurement, made with unprecedented accuracy, could advance scientists' understanding of space-time, the cosmos and its many mysterious phenomena.
Scientists achieved the feat while analyzing helium atoms, the second simplest element after hydrogen. After trapping and cooling helium gas, scientists measured a helium atom's quantum jump -- its transition between two energy states -- using a super-stable, ultra-precise laser.
"The fact the transition occurred is rare, and a milestone for quantum physics research," Maarten Hoogerland, physicist at the University of Aukland, said in a news release. "It advances our knowledge of the way atoms are put together and hence contributes to our understanding of space-time."
Much of the physical world is explained by the Standard Model of physics, but the model leaves many phenomena unresolved. The Standard Model fails to account for gravity, dark matter and dark energy. The model also fails to explain why matter outnumbers antimatter.
By studying atomic and subatomic peculiarities, scientists hope to happen upon effects that might help them explain some the Standard Model's blind spots.
Accurately measuring an atom's quantum leap can aid the cause. Researchers described their accomplishment in the journal Nature Physics.
"This new result is a great test for our understanding of the model and also allows us to determine the size of the helium nucleus and of the helium atom," Hoogerland said. "This has been the subject of intensive research for decades so for our experiment to have succeeded is an incredibly exciting result."