Experimental Tests of Foundational Concepts in Physics

Project: Research project

Project Details


The compelling enforcer of humility in physics is that the mathematical description of physical reality (no matter who creates the description, and however elegant it is) can be tested and potentially disproved with measurements. For the most fundament description – the so-called “standard model” – the measurement methods typically involve either the production and study of high energy particles by thousands of physicists in large and expensive international facilities. Northwestern’s new Center for Fundamental Physics (CFP) was established to pursue an alternative approach – to invent novel methods and affordable “tabletop” apparatus that small teams can use to stringently test this standard model, to address the deepest and most puzzling fundamental questions in physics. The compelling motivation for testing the standard model is a striking mystery. The standard model is unable to predict basic features of the universe (indicating that the description is significantly incomplete or worse) despite the fact that its predictions are so for completely consistent with all laboratory measurements that seek to identify what is wrong with or missing from the description.
To probe the standard model description and proposed improvements with unprecedented sensitivity, the 4 research groups of the CFP propose to pool their unique expertise and experience to launch new explorations of ultra-low energy frontiers.
1. To test the predicted quantum structure of the simplest atom with an unprecedented precision and sensitivity, UV lasers will be developed to laser-cool hydrogen atoms for the first time, opening the way to probe the predicted quantum structure of the simplest atom with a precision that exceeds a part in 1016.
2. To test the standard model’s most precise prediction with a precision and sensitivity well beyond what has ever been possible in physics, one-particle quantum systems will be probed for the first time with cryogenic detectors whose performance is limited by quantum mechanics itself, rather than by the usual thermal motions of particles in the detector.
3. To identify the mysterious dark matter, deduced from the motions of galaxies to be most of the mass in our universe but not part of the standard model, the first cryogenic cavity comparison apparatus will be designed, built and used for measurements.
4. To investigate quantum coherence of macroscopic objects and whether gravity can destroy such coherence (given that quantum mechanics itself does not provide any natural distance or mass scale for coherence loss), the first cryogenic apparatus for such studies will be designed, built and characterized.

The quantum detection limits, narrow linewidths, and great reduction of thermal fluctuations that can be realized with ultra-cold, cryogenic apparatus justifies the considerable effort required to develop the methods and apparatus needed for work at the ultra-low energy frontier.
Effective start/end date9/1/208/31/23


  • John Templeton Foundation (61906)

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