Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park and Towson University are reporting that they have created multiple universes inside a laboratory-created multiverse — a world first.
To be exact, the researchers created a metamaterial — like those used to fashion invisibility cloaks — that, when light passes through it, multiple universes are formed within it. These universes, called Minkowski spacetimes, are similar to our own, except they more neatly tie up Einstein’s theory of special relativity by including time as a fourth dimension.
While this is rather extraordinary, the experimental setup is actually quite simple — though definitely rather unconventional. The multiverse is created inside a solution of cobalt in kerosene. This fluid isn’t usually considered a metamaterial, but lead researcher Igor Smolyaninov and co found that by applying a magnetic field, the ferromagnetic nanoparticles of cobalt line up in neat columns. When light passes through these columns, it behaves as if it’s in a Minkowski universe.
To create multiple universes, the researchers fine-tuned the amount of cobalt in the fluid until there wasn’t quite enough to form the nanocolumns. Natural variations in the fluid mean that some regions still have enough cobalt to form the columns, and thus new universes. As the fluid moves the columns collapse, multiple universes constantly pop in and out of existence.
There are two key takeaways here: First, metamaterials are usually rather hard to manufacture — and yet here the researchers have seemingly discovered a self-organizing metamaterial. Second, this is the first ever time that new universes have been created in a laboratory setting. This is about as bleeding-edge as it gets, so we’re not exactly sure what avenues of research this opens up, but Smolyaninov suggests that they could be used to study how particles behave in universes with different properties than our own. Our universe has fairly firm rules on how particles behave, but it might be interesting to create a pet universe where, say, photons have mass and light travels really slowly.