Fastest rotor ever made may shed light on quantum physics

The rotor—which is actually a tiny spinning dumbbell that a laser levitates—spins at more than 60 billion rotations per minute.

Researchers have created the fastest human-made rotor in the world, which they believe will help them study quantum mechanics.

At more than 60 billion revolutions per minute, this machine is more than 100,000 times faster than a high-speed dental drill.

“People say that there is nothing in vacuum, but in physics, we know it’s not really empty…”

“This study has many applications, including material science,” says Tongcang Li, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, as well as electrical and computer engineering, at Purdue University. “We can study the extreme conditions different materials can survive in.”

Li’s team synthesized a tiny dumbbell from silica and levitated it in high vacuum using a laser. The laser can work in a straight line or in a circle—when it’s linear, the dumbbell vibrates, and when it’s circular, the dumbbell spins.

A spinning dumbbell functions as a rotor, and a vibrating dumbbell functions like an instrument for measuring tiny forces and torques, known as a torsion balance. Researchers used these devices to discover things like the gravitational constant and density of Earth, but Li hopes that as they become more advanced, they’ll be able to study things like quantum mechanics and the properties of vacuum.

“People say that there is nothing in vacuum, but in physics, we know it’s not really empty,” Li says. “There are a lot of virtual particles which may stay for a short time and then disappear. We want to figure out what’s really going on there, and that’s why we want to make the most sensitive torsion balance.”

By observing this tiny dumbbell spin faster than anything before it, Li’s team may also be able to learn things about vacuum friction and gravity. Understanding these mechanisms is an essential goal for the modern generation of physics, Li says.

The findings were published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Additional researchers from Purdue, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and the Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter in Beijing also contributed to this work.

The National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research provided support for the research.

Source: Purdue University

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