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Quantum gas in free fall
Date:6/24/2010

This release is available in German.

A sensitive measuring device must not be dropped - because this usually destroys the precision of the instrument. A team of researchers including scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics has done exactly this, however. And the researchers want to use this experience to make the measuring instrument even more sensitive. The team, headed by physicists from the University of Hanover, dropped a piece of apparatus, in which they generated a weightless Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), to the bottom of a drop tower at the University of Bremen. The particles in a BEC lose their individuality and can be considered to be a 'super-particle'. The researchers want to use such an ultra-cold quantum gas at zero gravity to construct a very sensitive measuring device for the Earth's gravitational field - in order to find deposits of minerals, and also to settle fundamental issues in physics (Science, June 18, 2010).

In a vacuum, a feather falls as quickly as a lead ball - something that is already presented to students as being irrefutable. "However, the equivalence principle is only a postulate that needs to be tested," says Ernst Maria Rasel, professor at the University of Hanover. According to the equivalence principle, the heavy mass with which bodies attract each other corresponds to the inertial mass, which resists an accelerating force. This means that in a vacuum all bodies hit the ground with the same speed. Physicists want to use a measuring device that measures gravity extremely accurately to investigate whether this hypothesis can really become a physical law. Ernst Maria Rasel's team has now taken an initial step in this direction.

The researchers generated a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) in zero gravity and observed, for more than a second, how the atomic cloud behaves in free fall. To
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Contact: Dr. Tilo Steinmetz
tilo.steinmetz@physik.uni-muenchen.de
49-893-290-5272
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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