Here on Earth, it's rather difficult to replicate curved space-time -- to get that kind of effect in nature, you'd have to get uncomfortably close to black holes and other distant space objects. However, researcher Nikodem Szpak may have found a way to simulate that bend without facing oblivion. His proposed technique puts supercooled atoms in an optical lattice created by a laser field; so long as the laws of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics hold true, the atoms should behave like they're experiencing curved space-time. You can even change the lattice's pattern to mimic different circumstances, whether it's a moment right after the Big Bang or the surface of a star.
Scientists will want to confirm that the technique works in practice, which could take a long time. You'd be freezing atoms to near absolute zero, for one thing. If the technique pans out, though, it could be very helpful for understanding the universe. You could verify complex space-time theories in the lab instead of simply trusting that your math is on the ball, or test advanced spaceflight concepts without having to build a ship. This is just a stepping stone toward bigger ideas and technologies, but it's potentially a huge one.
[Image credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF]