physics

Andrew Ong

A new class of super-accurate atomic clocks may detect miniscule changes in the laws of physics and shed light on how and why life exists in the universe, Sydney physicists have found.

Andrew Ong and his collaborators at the University of New South Wales discovered that the clocks could detect potential changes in a fundamental constant that governs the interaction between electrically charged objects.

“A changing fine-structure constant could explain why the conditions of our universe are so finely-tuned for all life to exist,” says Andrew, who did the research as part of his PhD.

“The value of the certain physical constants have to fall within a narrow range in order for carbon to be produced in stars. Without this mechanism, there would be no building blocks for all carbon-based life on our planet,” he says.

Atomic clocks, which measure time via the frequency of atomic transitions, are about 100 times more accurate than existing clocks. They are used in GPS satellites and the definition of the standard second.

The researchers hope to measure the frequency change over a few years so they can collect enough data to reach a conclusion about whether the fundamental constants vary and the rate at which they might vary.

“If we could show that the physical laws are always changing, then we can say that life exists simply in the region of the universe where the conditions are just right,” Andrew says.

NSW State Finalist: Andrew Ong, University of New South Wales