Recently at the University of St. Andrews, researchers were able to levitate and rotate a microscopic sphere of calcium carbonate at incredible speeds. Just how fast, you ask? Try up to 600 million revolutions per minute. That’s at least 500,000 times faster than your washing machine (for those who need something to compare it to).
One of the members of the team responsible for this scientific step forward, Professor Kishan Dholakia had this to say: “(I think we’ve) performed a real breakthrough piece of work (here). In addition to the exciting fundamental physics aspects, this experiment will allow us to probe the nature of friction in very small systems, which has relevance to the next generation of microscopic devices. And it’s always good to hold a ‘world record’ – even if for only a while.”
Needless to say, this discovery has far-reaching implications in the world of physics, which can perhaps be summed up best with a comment from Dr Michael Mazilu – “This system poses fascinating questions with regard to thermodynamics and is a challenging system to model theoretically. The rotation rate is so fast that the angular acceleration at the sphere surface is one billion times that of gravity on the Earth surface. It’s amazing that the centrifugal forces do not cause the sphere to disintegrate.”
He definitely has a point there, others have even pointed out that this might very well have an effect in the world of quantum mechanics concerning such things as quantum friction. According to Dr Yoshihiko Arita, “I am intrigued with the prospect of extending this to multiple trapped particles and rotating systems. We may even be able to shed light on the area of quantum friction – that is does quantum mechanics put the brakes on the motion or spinning particle even though we are in a near perfect vacuum with no other apparent sources of friction?”
“The rotation rate is so fast that the angular acceleration at the sphere surface is one billion times that of gravity on the Earth surface. It’s amazing that the centrifugal forces do not cause the sphere to disintegrate”, added Dr Mazilu.
Naturally, this is only one of many more exciting breakthroughs which the University of St. Andrews has spearheaded in recent times. For the sake of science, let’s hope that they continue to bring us more groundbreaking findings (in various fields).