ANU’s boffins are very excited to have successfully clocked helium atoms staying excited for over 8,000 seconds.
- “It’s this kind of ionized gas, or plasma, that’s inside the compact fluorescent light bulbs and other fluorescent lights around your house. It’s of fundamental interest to us to know exactly how long metastable atoms remain excited, but it also has implications for how we design better lighting systems in future.”
Professor Baldwin said that there has been just one earlier attempt by scientists to measure the duration of the helium atom’s excited state, and it had not been very accurate.
To rectify this, the ANU team used lasers to control and isolate a cloud of metastable helium atoms from their surrounding environment. The scientists were then able to measure the rate at which the atoms emitted ultraviolet photons to revert back to their normal, stable state.
Readers will be pleased to hear that the timing has also confirmed the long standing theory of quantum electrodynamics, which will come as a relief to many of you I’m sure.