The number three has long been attributed with mystical and divine properties.
Time and Life itself is a matter of threes. Birth, life and death. The past, the present and the future. Third time lucky. Three wishes. The Holy Trinity. Three daughters. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The three primary colours. A Troika. Brahma,Vishnu, Shiva. The Creator, the Preserver, the Destroyer. Three monkeys. Three wise men. Three Kings.
Three has its place in Physics as well. Pascal’s triangle and the Golden Number and the Fibonacci series. A theoretical prediction that fundamental particles in sets of three give rise to stable arrangements of infinitely scaleable, nesting sets has now been shown to be real – the Efimov State.
Wired: More than 40 years after a Soviet nuclear physicist proposed an outlandish theory that trios of particles can arrange themselves in an infinite nesting-doll configuration, experimentalists have reported strong evidence that this bizarre state of matter is real.
n 1970, Vitaly Efimov was manipulating the equations of quantum mechanics in an attempt to calculate the behavior of sets of three particles, such as the protons and neutrons that populate atomic nuclei, when he discovered a law that pertained not only to nuclear ingredients but also, under the right conditions, to any trio of particles in nature.
While most forces act between pairs, such as the north and south poles of a magnet or a planet and its sun, Efimov identified an effect that requires three components to spring into action. Together, the components form a state of matter similar to Borromean rings, an ancient symbol of three interconnected circles in which no two are directly linked. The so-called Efimov “trimer” could consist of a trio of protons, a triatomic molecule or any other set of three particles, as long as their properties were tuned to the right values. And in a surprising flourish, this hypothetical state of matter exhibited an unheard-of feature: the ability to range in size from practically infinitesimal to infinite.
Efimov had shown that when three particles come together, a special confluence of their forces creates the Borromean rings effect: Though one is not enough, the effects of two particles can conspire to bind a third. The nesting-doll feature — called discrete scale invariance — arose from a symmetry in the equation describing the forces between three particles. If the particles satisfied the equation when spaced a certain distance apart, then the same particles spaced 22.7 times farther apart were also a solution. This number, called a “scaling factor,” emerged from the mathematics as inexplicably as pi, the ratio between a circle’s circumference and diameter.
Now it seems 3 different research teams have shown the existence of Efimov nesting.
“With just one example, it’s very difficult to tell if it’s a Russian nesting doll,” said Cheng Chin, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago who was part of Grimm’s group in 2006. The ultimate proof would be an observation of consecutive Efimov trimers, each enlarged by a factor of 22.7. “That initiated a new race” to prove the theory, Chin said.
Eight years later, the competition to observe a series of Efimov states has ended in a photo finish. “What you see is three groups, in three different countries, reporting these multiple Efimov states all within about one month,” said Chin, who led one of the groups. “It’s totally amazing.”