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Previous Programs

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


Arman Cingoz, UC Berkeley
Nathan Leefer, UC Berkeley

Project Title

A Laboratory Search for Temporal and Spatial Variation of the Fine-Structure Constant Using Atomic Dysprosium

Project Summary

Our understanding of the physical universe relies on theories containing "fundamental constants," quantities, such as speed of light, that are measured in laboratories but cannot be predicted from theoretical considerations alone. These constants are considered fundamental because they set certain important scales in physics, and appear ubiquitously in many unrelated branches of physics. While current theories assume these quantities to be constant, it is important to check this assumption by searching for spatial and temporal variation of fundamental constants. Recently, astrophysical observations indicate that one such constant, the fine-structure constant (alpha), might be changing over the lifetime of the universe. Alpha dictates the strength of interactions between light and matter, and critically determines the wavelength of the light emitted or absorbed by atoms. We propose a search for a change of alpha of a few parts in one billion billion per year by investigating small temporal variations in the wavelength of radio waves absorbed by atoms of dysprosium exceptionally sensitive to alpha variation. Discovery of alpha variation would indicate new physics beyond current models: for example, it would contradict Einstein's theory of relativity and could be a signature of extra space-time dimensions or additional fundamental forces.

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