Thought for the month

“There is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.” Probably W.L. Sheldon, US lecturer on ethics (1858 – 1907) rather than Ernest Hemingway.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The (smallest) force be with you

In a world generally dominated by big numbers it is great to note that the Australians are thinking small. A physics researcher, Dr Biercuk, at the University of Sydney, has won the National Measurement Institute Prize for excellence in measurement techniques by a scientist under 35. In collaboration with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, he used trapped atomic ions as sensitive detectors of applied forces and electromagnetic fields. In so doing, the researchers were able to measure forces with extraordinary sensitivity - down to the yoctonewton (yN) level. The yoctonewton represents one septillionth of a newton (ten to the minus twenty four). Biercuk and colleagues used a device consisting of about 60 beryllium ions confined in a Penning Trap. Any movement caused by an applied force was measured with a laser. The resulting measurement of forces with sensitivity at the level of 390 yoctonewtons with just one second of measurement eclipsed the previous record by three orders of magnitude.

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