Friday, September 24, 2010

Einstein's Relativity at "Human" Scale

From Nigel Calder's blog, a report on recent measurements of the effects of relativity. The claim is that these are at "the scale of ordinary human activities". That's stretching it. It requires ultra-precise measurements. But at least it is over distances and times that are tangible to humans:
The most gratifying physics I’ve seen for a while comes in today’s Science magazine, from James Chin-Wen Chou and his colleagues in the Time and Frequency Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado. They detect well-known effects of relativity on the rate of time passing, but now on the scale of ordinary human activities.

Standard atomic clocks employ microwaves to ensure their regularity, but Chou’s team used laser light in a pair of aluminium-27 optical clocks (invented in 2005), which gives about 100 times better accuracy. In one experiment, they used an electric field to jiggle the aluminium ion at the heart of a clock and showed that time passed more slowly in accordance Einstein’s Special Relativity theory, about the effect of motion on time. The effect of atomic motion as slow as 8 metres per second (about 30 km/h) was detectable.

Especially pleasing for me was another experiment, in which one clock was jacked up just 33 cm relative to the other. The clock gaining height ran faster because it was further from the Earth’s centre of gravity, and the gravitational field was slightly weaker, in accordance with General Relativity. As the change in clock rate was only about 40 parts in a billion billion (1018), its detection was a tour de force for the NIST team.
What I find funny about people is that they aren't amazed at the power of science. Science is a methodology that harnesses "common sense" with logic, observation, measurement, and open publication that creates an unbeatable "tool" for advancing knowledge. Meanwhile, humans cling to prejudices and millenia-old religious beliefs to "guide" them through life. It is as if when handed a powerful flashlight on a very dark night, people contempuously cast it aside in favour of a tiny little flickering candle. Bizarre!

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