Operation of the first ever airborne matter wave sensor in both 1-g and 0-g gravitational conditions is reported in Nature Communications this week. The findings demonstrate the capability of such instruments outside of the laboratory environment and open the way to tests of fundamental physics.
Matter wave sensors use clouds of atoms cooled to fractions of a degree. At this level the wave nature of matter becomes important. The atomic waves can then interact with lasers to produce an interference pattern which measures the acceleration of the device. Philippe Bouyer and colleagues constructed such a sensor inside an aeroplane capable of travelling at 0-g. Under normal 1-g flight conditions they measure effects 300 times weaker than typical aircraft acceleration fluctuations.
Airborne matter wave sensors may provide improvements in navigation and motion monitoring, as well as improving accuracy in geophysical gravity surveys. Their operation in 0-g may also allow for tests of aspects of General Relativity or the possible detection of gravitational waves.