But two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley decided, as any good scientists would, to harness new technological abilities to conduct tests that are exponentially more refined than those previously employed to check the theory.
Postdoc Michael Hohensee and graduate student Nathan Leefer teamed up with physics Professor Dmitry Budker to measure the speed of electrons jumping from one atomic orbit to another in the rare Earth metal dysprosium, whose name is derived from the Greek for "hard to obtain."
Their warm-up tests confirmed the Einstein model, according to a UC Berkeley news release, but they aren't stopping there.
"Leefer and Hohensee are improving the experiment to push the theory’s limits even farther – and perhaps turn up a discrepancy that could help physicists fix holes in today’s main theories of the universe," according to campus science writer Robert Sanders.
One key goal, said Hohensee, who's in the physics department, is to resolve conflicts between Einstein's theory and the Standard Model, the leading modern theory about the fundamental nature of the universe.
“As a physicist, I want to know how the world works, and right now our best models of how the world works – the Standard Model of particle physics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity – don’t fit together at high energies,” he said in the campus release. “By finding points of breakage in the models, we can start to improve these theories.”
The results of the Berkeley experiment so far, along with theoretical calculations from colleagues at the University of New South Wales, were published this week in the the journal Physical Review Letters.
The Berkeley measurements "were 10 times more precise than previous attempts to measure the maximum speed of electrons," the campus said, and their limits on anomalies involving electron physics and Einstein’s gravitational redshift "are 160 times better than previous experimental limits."
The improved approach that the Berkeley scientists are pursuing promises to be far more precise.
"Compared with existing tests, the revamped experiment by UC Berkeley physicists will potentially be a thousand times more sensitive, the level at which some theorists predict special relativity might break down," according to the campus announcement.
Stay tuned ...
Meanwhile, the campus provided these links for related information:
- American Physical Society online story
- Limits on violations of Lorentz symmetry and the Einstein equivalence principle using radio-frequency spectroscopy of atomic dysprosium (Physical Review Letters)
- New Limits on Variation of the Fine-Structure Constant Using Atomic Dysprosium (Physical Review Letters)
- Dmitry Budker group web site
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