Physics

Scientists create negative-mass fluid that flows against the force

Scientists create negative-mas...
Researchers have created a fluid (not pictured) that acts like it has "negative mass," meaning it flows backwards when pushed
Researchers have created a fluid (not pictured) that acts like it has "negative mass," meaning it flows backwards when pushed
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Researchers have created a fluid (not pictured) that acts like it has "negative mass," meaning it flows backwards when pushed
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Researchers have created a fluid (not pictured) that acts like it has "negative mass," meaning it flows backwards when pushed

If you push an ordinary ball, it moves away from your hand. No surprise there. But if you pushed a ball with negative mass, it would actually accelerate backwards, moving towards you instead. It might be hard to picture how this could be possible, but according to Newtonian physics it should work in theory. Now, a team at Washington State University has demonstrated the phenomenon in practice, creating a fluid that has the properties of negative mass.

Part of the difficulty we have in imagining an object with negative mass might come from our use of the word. In casual conversation, the word "mass" is often thrown around interchangeably with "weight," but there's a difference: mass essentially describes how much matter makes up an object, while weight is the amount of force (usually gravity) that's acting on that object. In regular use here on Earth the two are closely linked, but take an object with a mass of 1 kg to the Moon and it will weigh just one sixth of that, due to the weaker gravity.

An object with a mass of -1 kg won't just float off the ground into space, but it will exhibit other strange behavior. Newton's Second Law of Motion says that a force on an object is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration (F = ma), so if that mass is a negative number, the force will also be negative. That's what causes the bizarre fluid to accelerate backwards and press itself up against whatever's pushing it, instead of moving in the direction of the force.

"That's what most things that we're used to do," says Michael Forbes, an author of the study. "With negative mass, if you push something, it accelerates toward you."

The Washington State researchers created the negative mass fluid using what's known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, a quirky state of matter that acts like a superfluid, where particles move in waves and can flow without losing energy. These condensates allow scientists to study quantum mechanics, and were recently used to create a previously-hypothesized form of matter known as a supersolid.

The team made the Bose-Einstein condensate by slowing down rubidium atoms with lasers, which cools them to just slightly above absolute zero and keeps them confined to a bowl-shaped area of about 100 microns across. Next, the scientists hit those atoms with another set of lasers that changed how they spin, a phenomenon known as "spin orbit coupling." That gives the rubidium the properties of a substance with negative mass when it's allowed to flow out of the bowl shape, which, according to the researchers, makes it look like it's hitting an invisible wall.

"What's a first here is the exquisite control we have over the nature of this negative mass, without any other complications," says Forbes. "It provides another environment to study a fundamental phenomenon that is very peculiar."

The strange substance could allow scientists to study some of the most mysterious forces in the universe, like black holes and dark energy.

The research was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Source: Washington State University

15 comments
Racqia Dvorak
If this were negative mass, working in the manner they say it does, then it would allow you to create what people have been calling anti gravity tech in science fiction for decades. But it's not negative mass. It's regular, normal atoms that behave like they have negative mass in a confined existence, most likely in only a limited manner. That is to say, they can act as a model for particles with negative mass.
fb36
If it is behaving like it has negative mass, maybe because it has negative energy. If so, can that negative energy taken out and used outside?
McDesign
As defined here, "negative mas" seems like "inertia". Anyone got a clearer lay explanation?
Guyguy
So if they actually could make this feasible beyond the micron scale I'm seeing force shields in the future
P Farrar
I believe there was extensive research done on this in the 70's I think they called it flubber
sk8dad
Since this experiment is done on earth, I assume each atom would experience acceleration of exactly 1G towards center of the Earth (downwards). Since F=ma (F=mg in this case), and assuming the material is behaving as if mass is negative, then wouldn't it stand to reason that the material would, not only not stay in the bowl, but actually fly away from the Earth (upwards) with an acceleration of exactly 1G--therefore antigravity? Also, if the material will resist an applied force by moving towards it, would it make the material infinitely strong? I don't see either of these observations here. What am I missing?
Bob
This doesn't look like negative mass to me either nor does it look like anti matter. I wonder if it is more of a gyroscopic effect which would make the atoms precession go in the opposite direction compared to the original spins.
chase
A 100 micron bowl...? and the bowl has a thickness of what... 25 microns? Leaving 50 microns for content. And they poured the contents out... and their saying it exhibited this behavior... Just to put this in perspective... A drop of water in a cloud is on average 200 microns while a spray drop is about 150 microns. We're talking approximately 50 microns of liquid... according to the article. That's not even a drop... or even half a drop. And even if it was... there's bigger mass drops in the clouds.
ljaques
Naming aside, I look forward to seeing what they come up with now that the initial creation and research are done. Any new twitch in physics is a good thing once it's beyond the purely theoretical stage.
Imran Sheikh
What i feel "its just acting like a Non Nutonian fluids" nothing more.. and we have them already.. and doesn't reversing the spin of atom just flip it, just like a magnet whose poles are swapped it will just flip and settle..