Fundamental tests of physics with optically trapped microspheres

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Li, Tongcang

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This dissertation details our experiments on studying the Brownian motion of an optically trapped microsphere with ultrahigh resolution, and cooling of its motion towards the quantum ground state.

We have trapped glass microspheres in water, air and vacuum with optical tweezers. We developed a detection system that can monitor the position of a trapped microsphere with Angstrom spatial resolution and microsecond temporal resolution. We studied the Brownian motion of a trapped microsphere in air over a wide range of pressures. We measured the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle. Our results provide direct verification of the Maxwell-Boltzmann velocity distribution and the energy equipartition theorem for a Brownian particle. For short time scales, the ballistic regime of Brownian motion is observed, in contrast to the usual diffusive regime. We are currently developing a new detection system to measure the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle in water.

In vacuum, we have used active feedback to cool the three center-of-mass vibration modes of a trapped microsphere from room temperature to millikelvin temperatures with a minimum mode temperature of 1.5 mK, which corresponds to the reduction of the root mean square (rms) amplitude of the microsphere from 6.7 nm to 15 pm for that mode. The mean thermal occupation number of that mode is reduced from about 6.8×108 at 297 K to about 3400 at 1.5 mK.




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