Theoretical physicist James Vary has been waiting for nuclear physics tests to confirm the truth of a “tetraneutron” that he and his colleagues theorized, foresaw, and first asserted during a demonstration in the summer of 2014, pursued by a research paper in the fall of 2016.
“Whenever we present a theory, we always have to say we’re waiting for experimental confirmation,” said Vary, a State University professor of physics and astronomy.
In the case of four neutrons shortly bound together in a temporary quantum state or resonance, Vary and an international team of physicists will show up that day.
The recently-announced experimental discovery of a tetraneutron by an international group led by scientists from Germany’s the Technical University of Darmstadt provides opportunities for new research. It could lead to a better understanding of how the universe is linked. This unique and exotic state of matter could also have useful properties in existing or emerging technologies.
Utilizing the supercomputing power at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the theorists estimated that four neutrons could form a resonant state with a lifetime of just 3×10^(-22) seconds, less than a billionth of a second. It’s tough to believe, but that’s sufficiently long for physicists to study.
“A tetraneutron has such a short life it’s a pretty big shock to the nuclear physics world that its properties can be measured before it breaks up,” Vary explained. “It’s a very exotic system.”