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Glasgow 2001 Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Black holes in the lab
Graphic BBC
By BBC Science's Richard Black

UK scientists are aiming to create models of black holes in the laboratory using sound and light.

They hope to use these models to find out more about how black holes work and how they form.

The researchers, who have been outlining their work at the British Association's Festival of Science in Glasgow, make it sound simple enough.

The idea comes from Einstein's general theory of relativity, which says that you can regard space and time as a "fluid" which flows throughout the Universe.

According to Professor Ulf Leonardt, from St Andrews' University, it should be possible to simulate the flow of space and time with any other fluid. In principle, he says, you could do it with the water spiraling towards the plughole in your bathtub.

"Now, imagine that your bathtub is designed such that the flow of water exceeds the speed of sound in water," he told the BBC. "And then this bathtub water would form a rotating black hole for sound waves.

"They would be trapped in the flowing water, there would be no way for them to escape outside - very much like a black hole in space."

In practice, Professor Leonardt would be working at the laboratory bench rather than in the bath and he would play, not with water but with exotic super-cold materials called Bose-Einstein Condensates.

At present, the professor's vision remains just an idea - but it is an attractive one.

Cosmologists are very keen to have new ways of studying black holes because of the insights they can give us into the strange world of quantum mechanics, where space is full of shadowy particles, constantly winking into and out of existence.

Traveling to a real black hole remains a far off dream.

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The BBC Richard Black
It sounds simple enough
See also:

14 Jan 99 | Science/Nature
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