Boldly Living on Mars, Even If It’s Just in Texas: The Start of NASA’s CHAPEA Mission

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The state of matter determines the type of interaction of elementary particles unique to the solid, liquid, and gas phase. However, quantum phenomena are so unusual that it’s like something out of a fairy tale, too extraordinary to describe with a pen. The quantum world hides so much that remains undiscovered that each new discovery offers new horizons of possibilities. One such recent discovery, a new quantum state of matter, promises to aid in the development of quantum memory and beyond.

Brockwell, Huston and Jones. Image Source: NASA

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and their colleagues from China have recreated the conditions where matter assumes a chiral Bose-liquid state. Chirality refers to the lack of left-right symmetry in a matter’s structure, while the Bose-liquid aspect refers to the extreme fluidity or superconductivity at temperatures near absolute zero.

The new state of matter was created in a sample consisting of two semiconductor layers stacked on top of each other. The upper layer had an excess of electrons, and the lower layer had a specific hole deficit. The subtlety of the experiment lay in the fact that there were not enough holes for all the electrons. By applying an extremely strong magnetic field to the sample, the scientists began to monitor the motion of the electrons. As the strength of the field increased, the sample transitioned into a state of chiral Bose-liquid, exhibiting a range of unique properties.

“On the edge of the two semiconductor layers, electrons and holes move at the same speeds,” explained physicist Lingjie Du from Nanjing University in China. “This leads to spiral transport, which can be further modulated by external magnetic fields, as at higher fields, the electron and hole channels gradually separate.”

For instance, when cooled to a temperature close to absolute zero, the electrons in the matter “froze in a predictable order and with a fixed spin direction” and did not respond to other particles or magnetic fields. This stability could be useful in digital data storage systems at the quantum level.

Another intriguing observation was that the impact of an external particle on one of the electrons in the system resulted in a reaction in all the electrons in the system, explained by the effect of quantum entanglement of particles in the Bose-liquid. This discovery also promises to be useful in future quantum systems.

The CHAPEA team will otherwise live just as they would on Mars—participating in special events, conducting “scientific research,” maintaining life support systems, and even growing fresh food. Additionally, they will regularly face challenges that they will have to respond to, although NASA has not specified what these will be.

The experiment is far from the first of its kind in the U.S. For instance, the isolation project HI-SEAS was organized in Hawaii as far back as 2017, and last year NASA announced that they would be using virtual reality on the Unreal Engine 5 for training.

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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