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Physicists Discover "Demon" Particle Predicted 66 Years Ago

Scientists confirm existence of Pines' Demon, and it could rewrite our understanding of physics.

By Cassidy Ward
Liz Radiation particle collision GETTY

A Demon Within (streaming now on Peacock) begins with a familiar scene. A small family, in search of a simpler life, settles down at a quiet farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. The house is a little creaky, a little drafty, and it makes noises at night like many old houses do. The mother-daughter duo settle into their new lives comfortably, until an unseen demonic house guest takes up residence inside teenage Charlotte.

Demon Particle Discovered Inside Metal Sample

Usually, finding a demon where you didn’t expect one is a recipe for terror, but recently a group of researchers found a “demon” for themselves, solving a decade’s-long physics mystery. The so-called Demon particle was first theorized by physicist David Pines in 1956. He imagined it as a wave rippling through electrons in a material. When electrons in a material have different energy ranges or “bands” and they move out of phase, you can get a ripple effect that acts like a particle without transferring any energy. The upshot is that Pines’ Demon is invisible, massless, and chargeless, making it exceedingly difficult to detect.

Now Pine’s demon has been confirmed in a paper published to the journal Nature. The demon isn’t actually a particle in the technical sense. Instead, it’s a plasmon, the aforementioned plasma wave, but it behaves much like  a particle and appears to play a pivotal role in superconductors.

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Today, building superconductors (materials that have no electrical resistance) typically requires incredibly cold temperatures approaching absolute zero. Pines, however, predicted that his demon particle could be formed at room temperature. Room temperature superconductors are a “holy grail” of science because they could potentially allow us to move energy around with almost no loss.

Researchers weren’t looking for Pines’ Demon, they just happened to be doing the right thing to accidentally generate one, and had the skills to recognize it. Researchers began by shooting electrons at a sample of crystallized strontium ruthenate, then they measured the energies bouncing back at them. When they measured the reflected energies they found something that looked an awful lot like Pines’ Demon buried inside the sample. Repeated experiments confirmed the discovery.

At present, the confirmation of Pines’ predicted Demon particle hasn’t changed the world, but existing superconductors allow us to levitate objects and move them with no friction. The ability to do that at room temperature has potential applications that are difficult even to imagine.

While waiting for your own personal levitation platform, catch A Demon Within, streaming now on Peacock!