Scientists say they have created the fastest known rotating objects ever, glass nanoparticles spinning at an astonishing rate of a billion times per second.
The research, carried out by two independent teams including one from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), used a laser to spin small particles of silicon dioxide. Trapping a particle with the laser and placing it in a vacuum, they were able to spin it to high speeds.
According to Gizmodo, the team from ETHZ were “just having some fun”, which was their sole reason for doing this. The other team from Purdue University in Indiana, meanwhile, appear to have been actively looking at the scientific benefits.
The rapid rotation was achieved by both teams using nanoparticles in a vacuum. When they shined circularly polarized light on the nanoparticles, they began to spin at huge speeds of a billion times per second.
“We were surprised at the high speeds because we thought the particle would disintegrate much sooner,” René Reimann of ETHZ told New Scientist.
The team from Purdue University achieved the speeds by sticking two nanoparticles together in a dumbbell shape to increase the strength. They said they were able to keep them spinning at more than a billion times per second for several hours, and could even go faster.
Aside from just being fun, the research has some useful scientific benefits. It could help study quantum friction, which is the drag experienced by particles from quantum vacuum fluctuations. This could even delve into the origins of the universe, with rapidly spinning particles in space suggested as the source of the cosmic microwave background left over from the Big Bang.