When discussing quantum physics, you’ll often hear a the phrase “quantum field theory” thrown about. This refers to the general idea that quantum particles are actually just localized excited states of a more general quantum field underlying them — a trippy but mathematically useful idea that interacts with Einstein’s classical conception of space-time in ways that are complex, to say that least. Gravity, so says dogma, is the result of curvature in the ineffable medium of space-time, and modern quantum physics says that curved space-time ought to effect the behavior of a hypothetical quantum field somehow. Precisely how they interact is an open question, and answering that question has been described as the holy grail of physics. It’s currently very difficult to study those interactions in the lab, but that may be about to change.
Curving space-time is very difficult to do, synthetically. It’s easy enough through the classical means — collect a bunch of mass somewhere — but to generate a curve steep enough to have measurable effects on single quantum particles requires densities found only near black holes and the like. Curving space-time in a more direct way, with magnetic fields or “exotic matter,” has been proposed in halls as hallowed as those at NASA — but such technology would allow us to build a literal warp drive, and if mankind had figured that out you’d have read about it here by now. No, instead of figuring out how to actually curve space-time, a German researcher named Nikodem Szpak may have found a loophole that lets us study the effects of curved space-time without having to actually curve it.
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