With a breakthrough that will hopefully eventually trickle down to tea kettles, coffee machines, and even showerheads, researchers at the Hamburg Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Germany have devised a way to boil water to 600 degrees celsius in less than a trillionth of a second. To put that into perspective, as the folks at DESY point out, one picasecond is to a second what one second is to 32,000 years.
And all that's needed to prep a piping hot cup of tea faster than the blink of an eye is a concentrated blast of terahertz radiation made up of electromagnetic waves falling somewhere between radio waves and infrared light on the frequency spectrum. It's generated using special lasers that send electrons hurdling down a zig-zag course that emit electromagnetic waves as they race through the bends. When the terahertz blast hits water molecules, it causes them to immediately and intensely vibrate, resulting in a near instant boil—and then some.
There are some caveats to this new technique, though. For starters, it's currently just theoretical, having only been tested (and confirmed) in supercomputer simulations. But the equipment needed to test it in real life should be ready soon. The other problem is that the simulation was performed on only a billionth of a litre of water—no where near enough for even a sip of coffee. [Wiley Online Library via DESY via Popular Science]
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