Scientists work out how to measure wheter physical constants are actually constant
June 14, 2019: Until recently, it was assumed that physical constants are constant and thus unchanging. However, several theories, such as the dark matter theory, have predicted that some fundamental constants may oscillate. This specifically refers to the µ [mi] constant, which represents the ratio of weight concerning the proton and the electron as well as fine-structure constants, which Richard Feynman called the greatest mystery of modern physics. The fundamental question of whether core physical constants are really constant is currently being researched by Lukáš Pašteka from Comenius University in Bratislava as part of an international team whose work was recently published in Physical Review Letters.
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"In our work, we have proposed a new method that could lead to the first successful detection of dark matter or to the first measurement of changes in fundamental constants and contribute towards our understanding of cosmic evolution," explains Lukáš Pašteka, who is a physicist. Research into phenomena that go beyond the standard model of particle physics is one of the most exciting areas of physics, he says.
Testing the true constant of fundamental constants like the speed of light is a prominent part of the search for a "new physics". The values of these constants may differ in different regions of the universe or may develop over time. Minor variations may be due to local interactions with ubiquitous yet invisible dark matter. So far, atomic clock experiments and laser spectroscopy have been used to find these changes. However, these measurements have not yet succeeded in capturing any variations in the values of the constants. They have only provided boundaries for a possible outcome.
"A much higher accuracy of measurement could be achieved by the methodology we have proposed in our work, using laser interferometry and mass resonance devices that are used today to detect gravitational waves," says Lukáš Pašteka. This method is based on the measurement of small variations in the crystal dimensions caused by changes in fundamental constant values. "We have thoroughly analysed different types of materials, such as gold and germanium, and how their structures change under the influence of changes in the strength of electromagnetic interaction and the proton-to-electron mass ratio," he explains.
If it can be confirmed that fundamental constants are changing across the universe, this could aid further enquiries into the theoretical description of a new physics beyond the current standard model in order to find the "theory of everything". There are several phenomena that are not yet described by a standard model. “We know that we have too many physical constants. Ideally, we would like to achieve a single theory with as few parameters (physical constants) as possible that would describe all physical processes. Much of the effort of modern physics is actually devoted to the search for the theory of everything," said Pašteka. One of these ways is a thorough investigation of phenomena that are outside of the standard model.
In addition, if the physical constants are variable in space, this would explain why in our neighbourhood all constants are "tuned" exactly to make life happen. Indeed, the physical constants are set in a very delicate balance by creating the conditions for the creation of stars, planetary systems, and life itself. It is enough for some of them to change by just a few percent, and a sustainable nuclear reaction with carbon atoms, which are the basis of all biological matter, would not have been created. Life was only created in that part of the universe where the conditions for its creation were favourable.