1st 'atom tornado' created from swirling vortex of helium atoms

The first ever atomic vortex beam has been created by physicists. It is a swirling tornado made up of atoms and molecules that possess mysterious properties that are still unknown.
Scientists were able use quantum mechanics to transform a straight beam from helium atoms into a vortex by sending it through a grating that has tiny slits.

Orbital angular momentum is the extra energy that the beam gets from its rotation. This gives it a new direction in which to move, allowing it to perform in ways researchers cannot predict. They believe that the atoms' rotating could increase the beam's magnetism, along with other unpredicted effects due to the electrons inside the spiraling vortex atoms spinning in different speeds.

Related: 18 Unsolved Mysteries in Physics

Live Science was told by Yair Segev (study co-author) that it could also alter the magnetic moment of an atom. This is the intrinsic magnetism of a particle which makes it behave like a tiny bar magnet.

The classical, simplified picture of an atom shows that negatively-charged electrons orbit an atomic nucleus. Segev stated that the vortex's electrons would spin at a faster rate than the nuclei as they spin, creating "different opposing [electrical] currents." According to Michael Faraday's famous law of magnetic Induction, this could produce new magnetic effects such as magnetic moments that are directed through the center beam and out from the atoms. There may also be other effects they can't predict.

Researchers created the beam by sending helium molecules through a grid with tiny slits measuring 600 nanometers in width. The quantum mechanics world can be described as having both particles and waves. As such, the beam of helium atoms that behave like waves diffracted through the grid. They formed a vortex, which spiralled through space.

The whirling electrons arrived at a detector. It showed many beams diffracting to different degrees to have varying angles of momentums. Scientists also found smaller and brighter doughnut rings between the three central swirls. These are the signs of helium eximers, a molecule that forms when an energetically excited helium-atom sticks to another. Helium is a noble gas that doesn't bind to anything.

Segev explained that the orbital angular momentum imparted to the atoms in the spiraling beam also alters the quantum mechanical "selection laws" that govern how swirling atoms interact with other particles. To see how their helium beams might behave, researchers will next smash them into photons, electrons, and atoms of other elements.

Their rotating beam could be a candidate for a new microscope that can see into the subatomic level. Segev believes that the beam could provide more information about certain surfaces by altering the image imprinted on the beam atoms bounced off of it.

Segev stated, "I believe that, as is often true in science, it'sn't a leap in capability that leads to anything new, but rather, a shift in perspective."

September 3, was the publication date for the findings by the researchers in Science.

Original publication on Live Science