There's a reason Albert Einstein always looked like he'd stuck his finger in a light socket: Physicists spend their days doing some of the most mind-blowing research in science. Here are 10 physics findings that will cramp your brain and make your hair stand on end.
"Expanding Universe" by Mblegacy [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
1. Space ripples
This discovery is hot off the press (or, more accurately, hot off the cosmic microwave background radiation). Physicists have long been searching for evidence of how the universe was created. The working theory is that a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe went through a period of ultra-rapid expansion, known as inflation. (In fact, the universe is still expanding.) According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, this fast expansion made ripples in space-time called gravitational waves, traveling outward from the center. Now, nearly 100 years after Einstein predicted them, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have found direct evidence that these space ripples really exist.
2. Quark-gluon plasma
Sounds disgusting! But actually it's just really hot. Right after the Big Bang, the universe was nothing but quarks (subatomic particles with a small electric charge) and gluons (particles that hold quarks together), muddled together at an extremely high temperature. When these particles started to cool, they formed protons and neutrons, which are the building blocks of matter. Just a few years ago, scientists were able to recreate quark-gluon plasma in a lab.
"Quark Wiki" by Brianzero [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
3. Time is slowing down
No, you aren't just bored; time is actually slowing down. Tidal friction caused by the Moon's gravitational pull is causing Earth's rotation to slow so that a day on Earth gets 1.4 milliseconds longer about every 100 years. To compensate, every so often a "leap second" is added to atomic clocks.
4. Light can be stopped completely
Light isn't always the fastest thing in the universe; sometimes it has to sit in traffic just like everyone else. Last year scientists in Germany successfully stopped light from traveling for an entire minute, by trapping it in a crystal.
Teleportation is not just a Star Trek fantasy; scientists have actually been doing it since 1997. Granted, they are teleporting single photons (particles of light), not people, but still. Two years ago, researchers in China managed to teleport a single photon just over 60 miles, and new methods of teleportation are successful 40 percent of the time, compared with 1 percent of the time for earlier methods. This research probably won't have you teleporting anywhere soon, but it could lead to much faster ways to transmit data.
"Military Laser Experiment" by the U.S. Air Force
6. Quantum entanglement
What makes teleportation possible is a crazy little thing called "quantum entanglement." When two particles are created at exactly the same point and time, they become entangled. After being split apart, what happens to one particle affects the other particle, even if they are very far apart. For example, if one particle spins in one direction, the other particle will spin in the opposite direction. Einstein called this phenomenon "spooky action at a distance."
7. Quantum foam
Empty space is anything but empty, and virtual reality is nothing new. A virtual particle is a particle that exists for only a very short period of time. They come into existence to facilitate interactions between ordinary particles, and then they disappear. It turns out that all of the space we normally think of as empty is actually full of these virtual particles popping in and out of existence. Physicists have termed this state "quantum foam."
8. Light bends matter
We all know that matter bends light; we see it happen all of the time through our windows. But by experimenting with ribbons of nanoparticles, researchers have also shown that light can bend matter. The ribbons were flat in the dark but curled up when subjected to light. What will they think of next?
"Prism, Dawn Light Sanctuary" by Ingrid Truemper [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Flickr
9. Invisibility cloak?
In 2012, researchers at Duke University successfully created an invisibility cloak to hide a 7.5-cm-by-1-cm cylinder. The cloak consisted of man-made objects called metamaterials, which are able to bend electromagnetic waves. By arranging the metamaterials in a diamond pattern, they succeeded in completely eliminating reflective light. The main catch, for now, is that it works in only one direction.
10. The "God particle"
In 2012, after looking for decades, physicists at CERN announced that they had found the "Higgs boson," aka the "God particle." This particle was theorized in 1964 and is essential to the standard model of physics. Wrapping your mind around the Higgs boson is more than a small challenge, so for an explanation, I'll turn you over to the man himself, Dr. Peter Higgs.
Does your brain hurt yet? Yeah, I thought so.
Krista Garver, an education research assistant, contributed to this piece.