Freezing the atoms of an object to solve the biggest problem of general relativity

Freezing the atoms of an object to solve the biggest problem of general relativity

Scientists for the first time managed to almost freeze the motion of the atoms of a macroscopic object, with the intent of making quantum observations

(photo: Danny Sellers / Caltech / MIT / LIGO Lab) to solve the biggest problem of general relativity, Ligo (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) cools its mirrors: researchers have managed for the first time to freeze (or almost) the movement of the atoms of a macroscopic object of 10 kilos . A daring experiment, the results of which have been published in the journal Science.

The great problem of general relativity

What is the relationship between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics? What role does gravity play? Is it your fault that macroscopic objects do not exhibit quantum properties? These are questions that still today, a century after the formulation of Einstein's theory of general relativity, remain unanswered.

Answer that - as Vivishek Sudhir, professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains to Inverse - could arrive, in theory, if one were able to realize a quantum state of an object massive enough to be able to measure the effect of gravity on it.

The problem is that to obtain a similar system one must eliminate the interference of the surrounding environment, including thermal (heat) because even in the air at room temperature there is a lot of energy.

Freezing movement

Researchers of Ligo took advantage of a period of inactivity of the Ligo interferometer (which is used to capture gravitational waves) to try to produce a macroscopic quantum system, using the mirrors and lasers of which it is composed.

To minimize the movement of the atoms of the 10 kg oscillator (the largest mass ever attempted before), it was not enough to cool: it was necessary to cancel any injection of energy from the environment. The researchers used a feedback system: with Ligo lasers they precisely monitored the movements of the object in response to energy from the environment and then applied a contrasting force each time to slow down the random movement of the atoms. In this way they brought the oscillator to a temperature of 77 nanokelvin, that is, slightly above absolute zero, to the complete state of rest at the atomic level.

At this temperature, perhaps, it will be possible to see the effects of gravity on quantum mechanics and bring physicists closer to explaining the differences with classical mechanics.

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