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In his Special Theory of Relativity, Einstein formulated the hypothesis according to which the speed of light is always the same, no matter what the conditions are. It may, however, be possible that -- according to theoretical models of quantum gravitation -- this uniformity of space-time does not apply to particles. Physicists have now tested this hypothesis with a first long-term comparison of two optical ytterbium clocks at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB). With these clocks, whose error amounts to only one second in ten billion years, it should be possible to measure even extremely small deviations of the movement of the electrons in ytterbium. But the scientists did not detect any change when the clocks were oriented differently in space. Due to this result, the current limit for testing the space-time symmetry by means of experiments has been drastically improved by a factor of 100. In addition to this, the extremely small systematic measurement uncertainty of the optical ytterbium clocks of less than 4 × 10E-18 has been confirmed. The team consisting of physicists from PTB and from the University of Delaware has published its results in the current issue of Nature.
It is one of the most famous physics experiments in history: As early as 1887, Michelson and Morley demonstrated what Einstein later expressed in the form of a theory. With the aid of a rotating interferometer, they compared the speed of light along two optical axes running vertically to each other. The result of this experiment became one of the fundamental statements of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity: The speed of light is the same in all directions of space. Now one could ask: Does this symmetry of space (which was named after Hendrik Antoon Lorentz) also apply to the motion of material particles? Or are there any directions...
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