Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Looking at quantum gravity in a mirror

Einstein's theory of gravity and quantum physics are expected to merge at the Planck-scale of extremely high energies and on very short distances.

At this scale, new phenomena could arise. However, the Planck-scale is so remote from current experimental capabilities that tests of quantum gravity are widely believed to be nearly impossible.

This is an illustration of a laser pulse used to probe a mirror for possible quantum gravitational effects. Credit: Jonas Schmoele, VCQ, University of Vienna

Now an international collaboration between the groups of Caslav Brukner and Markus Aspelmeyer at the University of Vienna and Myungshik Kim at Imperial College London has proposed a new quantum experiment using Planck-mass mirrors. Such an experiment could test certain predictions made by quantum gravity proposals in the laboratory. The findings will be published this week in Nature Physics.

A long-standing challenge

The search for a theory that unifies quantum mechanics with Einstein's theory of gravity is one of the main challenges in modern physics. Quantum mechanics describes effects at the scale of single particles, atoms and molecules. Einstein's theory of gravity, on the other hand, is typically relevant for large masses. It is widely expected that phenomena stemming from a unified theory of quantum gravity will become evident only at the so-called Planck-scale of extremely high energies or extremely small distances. The Planck-length is 1.6 x 10-35 meters: This is so small that if one were to take this scale to be 1 meter, then an atom would be as large as the entire visible Universe! Similarly, the Planck-energy is so large that even the Large Hadron Collider in CERN only reaches an insignificantly tiny fraction of this energy, and a particle accelerator would need to be of astronomical size to get even close to the Planck-Energy. This scale is also described by the Planck-mass: A piece of dust weights about that much, which is truly heavy compared to single atoms, and quantum phenomena are typically considered unobservable for such masses. The Planck-scale is therefore so remote from current experimental capabilities that tests of quantum gravity proposals are widely believed to be nearly impossible. However, physicists have now found a way to probe some predictions of quantum gravity proposals in the laboratory by looking at quantum effects in Planck-mass quantum systems.

The sequence makes the difference

In quantum mechanics it is impossible to know where a particle is and how fast it is moving at the same time. Nevertheless, it is possible to make two subsequent measurements: a measurement of the particle's position followed by a measurement of its momentum, or vice-versa. In quantum physics the two different measurement sequences produces different experimental results. According to many theories of quantum gravity, this difference would be altered depending on the mass of the system, since the Planck-length puts a fundamental limit on measurements of distances. The team of physicists have now shown that although such modifications would be very small, they could be verified by using very massive quantum systems in the laboratory. Such an experiment could therefore test some of the proposals for quantum gravity.

Probing new theories with moving mirrors

The main idea is to use a laser pulse to interact four times with a moving mirror to probe exactly the difference between measuring first position after measuring momentum as compared to measuring momentum after measuring the position. By timing and engineering the interactions very precisely, the team have shown it is possible to map the effect onto the laser pulse and to read it out with quantum optical techniques. "Any deviation from the expected quantum mechanical result would be very exciting", says Igor Pikovski, the lead author of the work, "but even if no deviation is observed, the results can still help in the search for possible new theories". Some theoretical approaches to quantum gravity indeed predict different outcomes for the experiment. The scientists thus show how to probe these yet unexplored theories in a laboratory without using high-energy particle accelerators and without relying on rare astrophysical events.

Publication: Probing Planck-scale physics with quantum optics. I. Pikovski, M. R. Vanner, M. Aspelmeyer, M. S. Kim and CASLAV Brukner. Nature Physics (2012) DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS2262

Igor Pikovski | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Graphene microphone outperforms traditional nickel and offers ultrasonic reach
27.11.2015 | Institute of Physics

nachricht Tracking down the 'missing' carbon from the Martian atmosphere
25.11.2015 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>