Scientists suggest fourth dimension

“I believe this discovery is deserving of the Nobel honor,” said Early College student Tejas Santanam.

Two recent papers have been published in the journal, “Nature,” that detail two different experiments geared towards detecting a fourth dimension, and both produced similar results. One was conducted by a US-based team led by Dr. Oded Zilberberg, an assistant professor of physics at ETH Zurich, observing how light moves through charged glass. The other experiment, which was based in Europe and led by researcher Michael Lohse at the Ludwig-Maximilians University, observed ultracold bosonic atoms held on a grid of lasers.

Both experiments yielded results similar to a phenomenon called the “quantum Hall effect,” suggesting the existence of a fourth dimension.

When hearing the term “fourth dimension,” what do your immediate thoughts veer to?

Most people think of “spacetime,” a concept popularized by Einstein’s theory of relativity where both time and space merge and operate in relation to one another. Many less immediately imagine a fourth spatial dimension, a concept that visualizes space in length, depth, height and an additional vertical direction that we are unable to see, much like how 3D is 2D, but with an added depth.

But how would this concept actually manifest itself to us, the unenlightened three-dimensional creatures that we are? One example is to first imagine being in a normal, three-dimensional room with a sealed, cardboard box. If you cast a shadow of the box onto the wall, you will see an outline of the box on the wall, a 2D shape.

Now imagine you’re in a 4D room, and you cast a 4D box’s shadow onto a wall. What would you see? Right, a shadow of a three-dimensional image. So in summation, the existence of a fourth dimension allows us to see the world with an extra perspective.

Understanding 4D has become even more real through a recent discovery that provided a glimpse into what our world would be like if this dimension existed.

Physicists have high aspirations for the future following this discovery, such as Mikael Rechtsman, a professor at Penn State University and a leader in one of the experiments.

“Maybe … (physicists) can come up with new physics in the higher dimension,” said Rechtsman. “Then design devices that take advantage the higher-dimensional physics in lower dimensions.”

Others monitoring the topic believe the discoveries could hold answers to prominent scientific conversations.

“Currently there are some debates about whether the universe is curved like a hyperbolic saddle, a torus, or some other curve in space,” said physics enthusiast and Asheville resident Ross Briden. “(This discovery could)provide some insight about the shape of the universe.”

Several members of the scientific community also hope for concrete applications with directly tangible impacts.

“This could lead to ways for us to build devices that can work in 4D,” said Santanam.

Like the potential number of dimensions, the possibilities are infinite.