Is Gravity Quantum?


(By: Q. Choi in Scientific American)

The ongoing search for the graviton—the proposed fundamental particle carrying gravitational force—is a crucial step in physicists’ long journey toward a theory of everything.

All the fundamental forces of the universe are known to follow the laws of quantum mechanics, save one: gravity. Finding a way to fit gravity into quantum mechanics would bring scientists a giant leap closer to a “theory of everything” that could entirely explain the workings of the cosmos from first principles. A crucial first step in this quest to know whether gravity is quantum is to detect the long-postulated elementary particle of gravity, the graviton. In search of the graviton, physicists are now turning to experiments involving microscopic superconductors, free-falling crystals and the afterglow of the big bang.

Quantum mechanics suggests everything is made of quanta, or packets of energy, that can behave like both a particle and a wave—for instance, quanta of light are called photons. Detecting gravitons, the hypothetical quanta of gravity, would prove gravity is quantum. The problem is that gravity is extraordinarily weak. To directly observe the minuscule effects a graviton would have on matter, physicist Freeman Dyson famously noted, a graviton detector would have to be so massive that it collapses on itself to form a black hole.

“One of the issues with theories of quantum gravity is that their predictions are usually nearly impossible to experimentally test,” says quantum physicist Richard Norte of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “This is the main reason why there exist so many competing theories and why we haven’t been successful in understanding how it actually works.” To continue reading, click here

To read Richard Norte's et al. PRL article, click here.


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