Science and Engineering

Yale University

Jack Harris
New Haven, CT
$1,000,000
December 2014

An outstanding issue in physics is how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.  Two hypotheses dominate the field: (1) this emergence is consistent with conventional quantum theory, and reflects the tendency of large objects to interact dissipatively with their environment; and (2) this emergence is inconsistent with conventional quantum theory, and reflects the influence of gravity on the quantum behavior of massive objects.  Experiments to date have been unable to test the latter hypothesis, owing to the challenge of reducing dissipation to the point that the relevant gravitational effects can be observed.  To address this challenge, the team will build a new device consisting of a drop of superfluid liquid helium that is levitated in vacuum.  Photons trapped inside the drop will provide the control and detection needed to study quantum effects in the drop’s motion.  The device will be the most massive object in which quantum effects have been observed (by five orders of magnitude), and will provide access to quantum effects never before studied at the macroscale.  This system will enable the first experimental tests of leading models of gravity at the quantum level and as such stands to re-shape the understanding of the emergence of classical behavior at the macroscale.

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