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Task Group | Variations of Fundamental Constants

Setup of the optical clock with a trapped Yb+ ion. This system allows a sensitive search for a temporal variation of the fine structure constant. Photo: Aginmar/PTB

This Task Group questions one of the fundamental postulates of physics by asking whether the so-called fundamental constants are really constant. Some theoretical models that strive for a unified description of quantum physics and gravity predict, for example, a temporal and spatial dependence of the strength of the electromagnetic forces within atoms. This would result, among other effects, in a time dependence of the frequencies of atomic transitions and hence in a drift between different kinds of atomic clocks. Astrophysical observations of spectral lines from interstellar gas clouds are used to look for such changes over a wide range of the cosmological past.

Within our planetary system, a test is performed by precisely monitoring the relative motion of the earth and the moon, based on laser ranging to the reflectors positioned on the moon since 1969. The experimental search for minute changes at the limits of the available measurement accuracy is of great relevance because the detection of variability in one of the fundamental constants would provide a valuable guide for the development of theory. The task group establishes a discussion forum on this interdisciplinary topic within QUEST that allows an exchange between experimental, observational and theoretical work in order to stimulate the development of new approaches and methods.

Involved Research areas

  • Research Area Quantum Engineering
  • Research Area Space-Time