How Do You Split an Atom?


Quick Answer

An atom can be split with lasers at temperatures close to absolute zero, as was demonstrated by University of Bonn researchers in June 2012. The atom is then put back together to prove that it has been split.

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This method of atom splitting does not involve nuclear fission or radioactivity, but is a precise process that uses the laws of quantum mechanics. One of these laws states that an object can exist in several states simultaneously. Due to the fragility of quantum effects, an atom such as cesium must be cooled with lasers to almost absolute zero. Another laser then manipulates the atom until it spins, not to the right or left as it naturally spins, but in both directions at once. This splits the atom. Afterwards, the atom is put back together undamaged, which proves that the atom has been split.

A split atom cannot be seen directly, as shining a light will cause its immediate collapse. What is visible are the differences between the magnetic fields of the two positions or the differences between the accelerations that become imprinted in the quantum mechanical state of the atom. This principle is used to precisely survey forces such as the Earth's acceleration.

When an atom splits, it touches adjacent atoms and forms a small network of atoms. This formation can then be used like the memory of a computer to simulate and control real systems, such as plant photosynthesis. Observation of this phenomenon may eventually reveal all the secrets of the atom.

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