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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World

2019 Information as Fuel

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Dr. Dmitry Budker
University of California at Berkeley


Alain Lapierre, University of California at Berkeley
Arman Cingoz, University of California at Berkeley
Nathan Leefer, University of California at Berkeley

Project Title

Search for a Possible Time Variation of the Fine-Structure Constant alpha by Radio-Frequency Spectroscopy of Atomic Dysprosium

Project Summary

The development of physical theories has relied on the constancy of various fundamental quantities. Detecting or constraining possible spatial or temporal variations of fundamental physical constants is essential for a complete understanding of the Universe and the development of an ultimate theory of matter, space, and time, unifying the force of gravity with electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

The fine-structure constant, alpha, is a "constant" that depends on the electron charge and the speed of light. It dictates the strength of the interaction between light and matter and critically determines the wavelength of the light emitted or absorbed by atoms. Recent astrophysical observations indicate an alpha variation. We propose a search for a change of alpha of a few parts in one billion billion per year by investigating small time variations of the energy of radio-waves absorbed by atoms of dysprosium exceptionally sensitive to alpha variation.

Discovery of alpha variation would have a significant impact on our fundamental views on Nature. This would contradict Einstein's theory of relativity and indicate new physics beyond current models. It would support the existence of extra space-time dimensions or could be the signature of additional fundamental forces.

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