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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
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2015 The Physics of What Happens
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2013 Physics of Information
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2010 The Nature of Time
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2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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Dr. Ekkehard Peik


Christian Tamm, PTB
Burghard Lipphardt, PTB

Project Title

Laborotory Search for a temporal variation of the fine structure constant

Project Summary

While we know that the universe is expanding and evolving, the basic theories of physics assume invariable parameters, called the fundamental constants. Prominent examples are the speed of light, the elementary charge and the so-called fine-structure constant alpha, a number that appears in many electric and atomic phenomena. We will perform a very precise experimental test of the constancy of alpha by comparing two special atomic clocks based on different atomic frequencies: If alpha would change in time, these clocks would slowly drift out of synchronism. There are astronomical observations that seem to indicate that a few billion years ago alpha may have varied significantly. If that rate of change persists until today, the effect would show up in our clock comparison experiment within a measuring time of one year only. An unequivocal observation of the temporal drift of a fundamental constant would refute a basic postulate and would thus force us to rethink the fundamental theories of physics.

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