Scientists say electrons are spectacularly round

An extremely close look at the shape of the electron gets astonishing results, calling into question some theories of the universe.
Written by Laura Shin, Contributor on

Scientists have found that electrons are basically perfect spheres.

So perfect that if the subatomic particle were blown up to be the size of our solar system, any imperfection would be less than the width of a human hair.

Put another way, any deviation of roundness would be less than a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter across.

That's mind-bogglingly round.

The six scientists at Imperial College London measured the electron's roundness by training a measuring system of red and green lasers on a special molecule orbited by a single electron. They then put the molecule in an electrically charged place and looked to see if the electron would wobble.

Just as an egg placed on your dining table would flop over, an imperfectly round electron would be expected to flop over, or wobble.

They ran this experiment 25 million times and blinded themselves from its results until after the 25 millionth run of the experiment so they would not be biased in interpreting the results.

The Guardian, quoting researcher Jony Hudson, reported,

They found no sign of the electron wobbling in the field, meaning it is more spherical than any previous experiment had shown. "To the best of our knowledge, with the experimental precision we have, the electron appears to be round," Hudson said.

Their results, published in Nature, call into question theories that posit the electron is not perfectly round. A slightly aspherical electron would help explain why antimatter has disappeared since the Big Bang created the universe 12 to 14 billion years ago. An imperfectly round electron could also provide proof for a relatively new theory of physics called supersymmetry in which the particles of nature must come in pairs.

This recent finding could be a blow to the theory of supersymmetry, but even more precise measurements are necessary, because the electron could be egg-shaped at a scale smaller than this experiment examined.

Nature, quoting lead researcher Edward Hinds, reported,

Hinds reckons that by increasing the number of molecules per pulse and reducing their speed, his group should be able to raise the sensitivity of measurement by a factor of ten "over the next few years", and, ultimately, by a factor of 100. ... "We would pretty much rule out all current theories if we went down by a factor of 100 and saw nothing," he says.

[via Nature]

Photo: Flickr/Lawrence Rayner

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards