Scientists record yoctonewton forces

Apr 14, 2010 by Lin Edwards weblog
Phase-coherent Doppler velocimetry. (a) Atomic resonance employed for detection of ion motion, 19 MHz. (b) Schematic of the Doppler-detection system based on photon-arrival-time measurements. (c) Schematic of pulse sequencing/triggering for phase-coherent detection. (d) Histogram of photon arrival times relative to start-pulses generated synchronously with an RF excitation of the COM mode on resonance. Photon arrivals are bunched with periodicity given by the driven COM oscillation period, and su er hardware delays. Solid blue line is an exponential t to the data used to remove a background scattering rate. Figure credit: Michael J. Biercuk et al., ArXiv, http://arxiv.org/abs/1004.0780 (see paper for details)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists in Australia and the US have discovered that trapped ions are "exquisitely sensitive" force detectors, and have used them to record the tiniest forces ever measured.

The researchers, from the University of Sydney, in NSW Australia, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado, USA, have used their system to measure forces three orders of magnitude smaller than any previously measured . The forces were as small as 174 yoctonewtons, or 174 septillionths of a newton (174 x 10-24 newtons).

Professor Michael Biercuk of the University of Sydney and colleagues developed their system using a Penning trap, a device in which ions are confined in two dimensions by a strong , and in the third dimension by a weak electrostatic field. About 60 ions are held in the trap and kept very cold to eliminate motion due to thermal effects. The ions are charged and normally line up in the center of the trap. They are affected by any stray electrical or magnetic fields, which cause them to vibrate and become displaced from the center.

Any movement produced by an applied force is detected by reflecting a laser off the ions and measuring any Doppler shift in the frequency of the light. (The light’s frequency is slightly higher when the ion is moving towards the detector, and lower when moving away.) The detection system was able to measure the strength forces in the yoctonewtons range.

Until the present experiment, the smallest forces ever measured were in the attonewton range (10-18 newtons). These measurements were made coupling micro- or nano-fabricated resonators to systems such as single-electron transistors, or superconducting cavities. The ability to detect tiny forces is important for applications such as tests of fundamental physical phenomena and precision spin-resonance imaging.

The researchers hope to eventually be able to measure a single yoctonewton by using a single beryllium ion in the trap, and they believe their experiments will lead to the development of a new class of sensors based on trapped . Their results are published online in the pre-publication blog ArXiv.

Explore further: Seeking 'absolute zero', copper cube gets chillingly close

Related Stories

Sustained quantum information processing demonstrated

Aug 06, 2009

Raising prospects for building a practical quantum computer, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have demonstrated sustained, reliable information processing operations on electrically ...

Setting out to discover new, long-lived elements

Feb 11, 2010

Besides the 92 elements that occur naturally, scientists were able to create 20 additional chemical elements, six of which were discovered at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt.

Recommended for you

Backpack physics: Smaller hikers carry heavier loads

17 hours ago

Hikers are generally advised that the weight of the packs they carry should correspond to their own size, with smaller individuals carrying lighter loads. Although petite backpackers might appreciate the ...

Extremely high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging

17 hours ago

For the first time, researchers have succeeded to detect a single hydrogen atom using magnetic resonance imaging, which signifies a huge increase in the technology's spatial resolution. In the future, single-atom ...

'Attosecond' science breakthrough

18 hours ago

Scientists from Queen's University Belfast have been involved in a groundbreaking discovery in the area of experimental physics that has implications for understanding how radiotherapy kills cancer cells, among other things.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
not rated yet Apr 14, 2010
makes you wonder if all those studies of 'gravity wave' measurement are off.