Wouldn’t it be great to take the universe in the lab? Astronomy is one of the most captivating parts of physics. I mean, one can’t scoff at the idea of unveiling the mysteries of the cosmos. Unfortuntely, galaxies and black holes don’t exactly cooperate as far as experimenting goes.

A group of physicists is working on a solution.

As it turns out, bottling the immense cosmos in a handful of atoms is but one of the amazing properties of graphene. Graphene is a very thin sheet of carbon, just a single atom thick, all arranged in hexagons like cells in a beehive. Normally, then, each cell has six atoms, but scientists can add or remove one here and there, making some cells with five or seven.

CC-BY-SA AlexanderAlUS via commons

The normal structure of graphene lets a few electrons (one per atom, precisely) rather free to roam around. Cells with one atom more or less mess up this nice order. Electrons can’t just skip around carefree, instead they are attracted to five-atom cells and repelled by seven-atom ones. This creates a little bit of electric current in the material.

Big whoop.

Here comes the cool part, though: this current seems to bend exactly as how spacetime does according to General Relativity. So, appropriately placing atoms, you could simulate fantastically large cosmic phenomena in teeny tiny devices.

An example of wormhole in two-dimensional space-time. credit: telegraph.co.uk

For example, the researchers connected two sheets of graphene to simulate a wormhole—the hypothetical tunnel connecting two far-apart regions of spacetime, like in Interstellar.

The research is still just theoretical, but a tangible prototype should be just around the corner. The researchers say that it should have plenty of applications for electronic devices.

Personally, I’m also interested in holding the (ok, simulated) forces of gravity in the palm of my hand.

If you want more
  • The study isn’t published on journals yet. As far as I understand it’s about to be, in the meantime you can find the manuscript here

Cover photo: CC-BY-SA Karl Wienand, (using felixioncool, WikiImages, skeeze)

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