Particles dont fall smoothly under gravity, they lurch.
Researchers finally measure the subtle quantum effects of fourth fundamental force.
Far from falling smoothly, objects moving under gravity do so in lurching, quantum leaps, a French experiment has revealed1. The finding confirms that gravity, like the Universe’s three other fundamental forces, can have a quantum effect.
Particles, such as electrons confined to their orbital shells around the nucleus of an atom, are restricted by the rules of quantum mechanics. To move from one position to another, they must jump to the next quantum state.
This satisfying trick may also have profound implications for the future of physics. "Right now, we don’t have a theory of how gravity is created," says Bowles. If refined, he says, apparatus like Nesvizhevsky’s could explain how gravity behaves in the quantum world - and perhaps where it comes from.
"If you’re searching for something in fundamental physics, this is a very clean system," agrees Nesvizhevsky. It should allow researchers to pick apart some of the niggling questions about the fundamental properties of matter.
It might even be possible, suggests Bowles, to work out why Einstein’s theory of general relativity - which explains gravity and large things, such as galaxies and the Universe - doesn’t tally with quantum mechanics, the physicist’s handbook of the very small.
TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
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