Ultra-strong electric fields can induce a decay of the quantum vacuum by means of the production of electrons and positrons. This phenomenon — predicted since the 1930s but still to be discovered in the laboratory — illustrates the complex many-body nature of the quantum vacuum and has often been compared to boiling water. In fact, this analogy turns out to be much closer than previously anticipated. In a Physical Review Letter, Holger Gies (TPI) and Greger Torgrimsson (Chalmers U.) show that this vacuum decay can exhibit quantitatively similar critical behavior as is known from Water at the critical point, or many other systems such as ferromagnets, turbulence or even gravitational collapse to black holes. This research work predicts universal scaling laws for the onset of pair production in ultra-strong fields, such that the vacuum decay rate depends only on a set of global properties of the field but not on its microscopic details.

Critical Schwinger Pair Production

Open Access: http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1507.07802

Holger Gies
Theoretisch-Physikalisches Institut, Friedrich-Schiller-Universit├Ąt, Max-Wien-Platz 1, 07743 Jena, Germany
Greger Torgrimsson
Department of Applied Physics, Chalmers University of Technology, SE-41296 Gothenburg, Sweden