Dan Carney, a staff scientist and quantum physicist in Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division, and colleagues Holger Müller (UC Berkeley) and Jacob M. Taylor (National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST) have received a $3.5M award from the Heising-Simons Foundation to construct an experiment that will test some fundamental aspects of gravity.

The team first introduced their concept for a new kind of test of gravity in a 2021 PRX Quantum paper. While most of nature’s fundamental forces are known to obey specific laws in quantum mechanics, there is currently very limited information about the gravitational force. For instance, forces like electromagnetism can generate noiseless interactions between objects. While gravity may behave similarly, it is also possible that the interaction has additional noise, or causes a degradation of quantum information in large systems.

Carney et al.’s proposal is to perform a highly sensitive test of the coherence of the gravitational interaction by looking at how a sensitive quantum measurement device (an atom interferometer) observes the gravitational field of a very quiet object (a torsion pendulum).

Combined with the broader theory effort to study properties of low-energy gravity using quantum information, led by the Berkeley Lab team, the award will fund the construction of a new atom interferometer in Holger Müller’s labs at UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab, with the simultaneous construction of a torsion pendulum at NIST. The two components will be assembled together at UC Berkeley in 2025, and the experiment’s first science run will commence in 2026.

“Dan is a brilliant scientist brimming with ideas for novel approaches and devices for quantum sensing,” said Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille, director of Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division. “This proposal will bring Dan and his colleagues one step closer to testing the unification of the laws of general relativity and quantum mechanics, using an oscillator coupled to a lattice atom interferometer.”

HSF logo bannerThe Heising-Simons Foundation is a California-based family foundation that works with many partners to advance sustainable solutions in climate and clean energy, enable groundbreaking research in science, enhance the education of young learners, and support human rights for all people.

Read More:
Using an Atom Interferometer to Infer Gravitational Entanglement Generation (and Erratum, November 2, 2021)
August 18, 2021 / Daniel Carney, Holger Müller, Jacob M. Taylor / PRX Quantum