‘Impossible’ physics theory finds application

It may have taken 40 years, but Professor David Andrews’ physics theory, proposed at UEA back in 1979, has finally found its application.

A real-world application for his work ‘could never have been imagined’ said Prof Andrews, talking about when his work was published. But now researchers at the University of Bath have confirmed the physical effect of his theoretical predictions.

Chirality is a property of asymmetry important in several branches of science. An object is chiral if it is distinguishable from its mirror image. An example is in snails – the swirls on their shells are often ‘right-handed’, or dextral, swirling to the right, whereas a small percentage are always ‘left-handed’ or sinistral.

Many molecules essential to life, including DNA, exhibit chirality and the particular ‘handedness’ can wildly change their function or properties. Therefore, it is crucially important to know the chirality of a substance.

Prof Andrews’ theoretical technique precisely measures the chirality of molecules using lasers. The experiments are 100,000 times more precise than they have been previously.

PhD student Joel Collins and his colleague were the ones to notice the theory in practice during a series of tests. ‘To be honest my attitude was almost ‘okay let’s get this out [of] the way to make sure it doesn’t work and we can move onto something else’. Then, together with my colleague Dr Kristina Jones, we noticed that there did actually seem to be an affect, and I thought ‘Hmm, that’s interesting’.

‘We kept repeating the experiment to make sure it was actually a real effect and we saw that not only was it there, but it was huge. For my part, I didn’t really recognise how important it is, and was expecting someone to come along and rip it to shreds.

‘But over time, it has dawned on me – this is actually amazing.’

The research is headed by Dr Ventsislav Valev, who said, ‘We’ve demonstrated a new physical effect – you don’t get that every day.’

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