What is believed to be the smallest force ever measured has been detected by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley.
Using a combination of lasers and a unique optical trapping system that provides a cloud of ultracold atoms, the researchers measured a force of approximately 42 yoctonewtons. A yoctonewton is one septillionth of a newton and there are approximately 3 x 1023 yoctonewtons in one ounce of force.
Mechanical oscillators translate an applied force into measureable mechanical motion. The Standard Quantum Limit is imposed by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in which the measurement itself perturbs the motion of the oscillator, a phenomenon known as “quantum back-action.” (Image by Kevin Gutowski)
“We applied an external force to the center-of-mass motion of an ultracold atom cloud in a high-finesse optical cavity and measured the resulting motion optically,” says Dan Stamper-Kurn, a physicist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the UC Berkeley Physics Department. “When the driving force was resonant with the cloud’s oscillation frequency, we achieved a sensitivity that is consistent with theoretical predictions and only a factor of four above the Standard Quantum Limit, the most sensitive measurement that can be made.”
Stamper-Kurn is the corresponding author of a paper in Science that describes these results. The paper is titled “Optically measuring force near the standard quantum limit.” Co-authors are Sydney Schreppler, Nicolas Spethmann, Nathan Brahms, Thierry Botter and Maryrose Barrios.
If you want to confirm the existence of gravitational waves, space-time ripples predicted by Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity, or want to determine to what extent the law of gravity on the macroscopic scale, as described by Sir Isaac Newton, continues to apply at the microscopic scale, you need to detect and measure forces and motions that are almost incomprehensively tiny. For example, at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), scientists are attempting to record motions as small as one thousandth the diameter of a proton.
At the heart of all ultrasensitive detectors of force are mechanical oscillators, systems for translating an applied force into measureable mechanical motion. As measurements of force and motion reach quantum levels in sensitivity, however, they bump up against a barrier imposed by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in which the measurement itself perturbs the motion of the oscillator, a phenomenon known as “quantum back-action.” This barrier is called the Standard Quantum Limit (SQL). Over the past couple of decades, a wide array of strategies have been deployed to minimize quantum back-action and get ever closer to the SQL, but the best of these techniques fell short by six to eight orders of magnitude.
“We measured force with a sensitivity that is the closest ever to the SQL,” says Sydney Schreppler, a member of the Stamper-Kurn research group and lead author of the Science paper. “We were able to achieve this sensitivity because our mechanical oscillator is composed of only 1,200 atoms.”
In the experimental set-up used by Schreppler, Stamper-Kurn and their colleagues, the mechanical oscillator element is a gas of rubidium atoms optically trapped and chilled to nearly absolute zero. The optical trap consists of two standing-wave light fields with wavelengths of 860 and 840 nanometers that produce equal and opposite axial forces on the atoms. Center-of-mass motion is induced in the gas by modulating the amplitude of the 840 nanometer light field. The response is measured using a probe beam with a wavelength of 780 nanometers.
“When we apply an external force to our oscillator it is like hitting a pendulum with a bat then measuring the reaction,” says Schreppler. “A key to our sensitivity and approaching the SQL is our ability to decouple the rubidium atoms from their environment and maintain their cold temperature. The laser light we use to trap our atoms isolates them from external environmental noise but does not heat them, so they can remain cold and still enough to allow us to approach the limits of sensitivity when we apply a force.”
Schreppler says it should be possible to get even closer to the SQL for force sensitivity through a combination of colder atoms and improved optical detection efficiency. She also says there are back-action evading techniques that can be taken by performing non-standard measurements. For now, the experimental approach demonstrated in this study provides a means by which scientists trying to detect gravitational waves can compare the limits of their detection abilities to the predicted amplitude and frequency of gravitational waves. For those seeking to determine whether Newtonian gravity applies to the quantum world, they now have a way to test their theories. The enhanced force-sensitivity in this experiment could also point the way to improved atomic force microscopy.
“A scientific paper in 1980 predicted that the SQL might be reached within five years,” Schreppler says. “It took about 30 years longer than predicted, but we now have an experimental set-up capable both of reaching very close to the SQL and of showing the onset of different kinds of obscuring noise away from that SQL.”
This research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.
For more about the Dan Stamper-Kurn research group go here
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.
Lynn Yarris | Eurek Alert!
Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney
Airborne thermometer to measure Arctic temperatures
11.01.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.
Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
16.01.2017 | Information Technology
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering