RESEARCH COULD IMPACT THEORY OF RELATIVITY
professor Neil Russell may not be as well-known as Albert Einstein, but he has spent the past two summers reworking the famous physicist’s
research—not by disproving Einstein’s work but by trying to add
’s research work was featured as the cover story of the Aug. 16
issue of the New Scientist. In that article, Russell explains
the work being done by a group of physicists he’s involved with
that could potentially show that all space (including the atmosphere
surrounding us) is not completely blank but points in one direction,
slightly changing Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.
century of experiments has revealed that Einstein’s theory of special
relativity is highly accurate,” Russell said.
in 1989, Indiana University professor Alan Kostelecky and his colleagues
proposed that space might have faint directional effects built into
it--somewhat like the pinstripes on a baseball uniform--with everything
pointing in one particular direction.
then, Kostelecky, Russell and other physicists have done calculations
to seek out experiments with enough sensitivity to be able to see
the pinstripes. They are using the theoretical framework called
the Standard-Model Extension (SME), which is a description of all
possible ways in which Einstein’s theory can be modified.
part is taking the SME theory and calculating its effect on specific
experiments to predict which types of measurements are most likely
to show the pinstripes,” Russell said.
of the proposals of Russell and his collaborators is to compare
the ticking rates of high-precision atomic clocks on a satellite.
Although such comparisons have been done with Earth-based clocks,
the low-gravity environment of orbiting satellites is expected to
allow greater precision comparisons. As the satellite—for example
the International Space Station—turns, the clocks will point in
different directions and according to the SME, their ticking rates
may vary. If the rates do not vary, it could either mean there are
no pinstripes or the experiment is not precise enough to detect
the pinstripes. However, if the ticking rates do vary, this could
indicate a previously unknown physical effect.
speculation, but I think one of the things it could do is help to
bring together the theory of relativity and the theory of quantum
mechanics,” Russell said. “It could help to unify our picture of
of the interesting benefits of such a unification would be new insight
about how the universe formed and how nature operates. Currently,
according to Russell, one of the reasons why scientists do not fully
understand how the universe was formed is that they do not have
a theory that combines the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics.
The clock experiment may provide a small step on the path to merging
the two together.
Prepared by Miriam Moeller.