DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2015-04-09 12:05:00
    • Article ID: 632455

    Fermilab's Holometer Extends Limit on Knowable Universe

    Experiment's unique sensitivity to gravitational waves yields new limits on theories about the early universe

    • Credit: Fermilab

      The Holometer is sensitive to high-frequency gravitational waves, allowing it to look for events such as cosmic strings.

    Imagine an instrument that can measure motions a billion times smaller than an atom that last a millionth of a second. Fermilab's Holometer is currently the only machine with the ability to take these very precise measurements of space and time, and recently collected data has improved the limits on theories about exotic objects from the early universe.

    Our universe is as mysterious as it is vast. According to Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, anything that accelerates creates gravitational waves, which are disturbances in the fabric of space and time that travel at the speed of light and continue infinitely into space. Scientists are trying to measure these possible sources all the way to the beginning of the universe.

    The Holometer experiment, based at the Department of Energy's Fermilab, is sensitive to gravitational waves at frequencies in the range of a million cycles per second. Thus it addresses a spectrum not covered by experiments such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which searches for lower-frequency waves to detect massive cosmic events such as colliding black holes and merging neutron stars.

    "It's a huge advance in sensitivity compared to what anyone had done before," said Craig Hogan, director of the Center for Particle Astrophysics at Fermilab.

    This unique sensitivity allows the Holometer to look for exotic sources that could not otherwise be found. These include tiny black holes and cosmic strings, both possible phenomena from the early universe that scientists expect to produce high-frequency gravitational waves. Tiny black holes could be less than a meter across and orbit each other a million times per second; cosmic strings are loops in space-time that vibrate at the speed of light.

    The Holometer is composed of two Michelson interferometers that each split a laser beam down two 40-meter arms. The beams reflect off the mirrors at the ends of the arms and travel back to reunite. Passing gravitational waves alter the lengths of the beams' paths, causing fluctuations in the laser light's brightness, which physicists can detect.

    The Holometer team spent five years building the apparatus and minimizing noise sources to prepare for experimentation. Now the Holometer is taking data continuously, and with an hour's worth of data, physicists were able to confirm that there are no high-frequency gravitational waves at the magnitude where they were searching.

    The absence of a signal provides valuable information about our universe. Although this result does not prove whether the exotic objects exist, it has eliminated the region of the universe where they could be present.

    "It means that if there are primordial cosmic string loops or tiny black hole binaries, they have to be far away," Hogan said. "It puts a limit on how much of that stuff can be out there."

    Detecting these high-frequency gravitational waves is a secondary goal of the Holometer. Its main purpose is to determine whether our universe acts like a 2-D hologram, where information is coded into two-dimensional bits at the Planck scale, a length around ten trillion trillion times smaller than an atom. That investigation is still in progress.

    "For me, it's gratifying to be able to contribute something new to science," said researcher Bobby Lanza, who recently earned his Ph.D. conducting research on the Holometer. He is the lead author on an upcoming paper about the result. "It's part of chipping away at the whole picture of the universe."

    —Diana Kwon

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    Polymers get caught up in love-hate chemistry of oil and water

    Polymers get caught up in love-hate chemistry of oil and water

    Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee achieved a rare look at the inner workings of polymer self-assembly at an oil-water interface to advance materials for neuromorphic computing and bio-inspired technologies.

    New twist in artificial intelligence could enhance the prediction of fusion disruptions

    New twist in artificial intelligence could enhance the prediction of fusion disruptions

    New application of deep learning allows prediction of disruptions from raw, high-resolution data from fusion energy experiments.

    Scientists Discover New Clue Behind Age-Related Diseases and Food Spoilage

    Scientists Discover New Clue Behind Age-Related Diseases and Food Spoilage

    Berkeley Lab scientists have made a surprising discovery that could help explain our risk for developing chronic diseases or cancers as we get older, and how our food decomposes over time.

    Researchers Overcome the Space Between 
Protons and Neutrons to Study Heart of Matter

    Researchers Overcome the Space Between Protons and Neutrons to Study Heart of Matter

    Nuclear physicists have entered a new era for probing the strongest force in the universe at its very heart with a novel method of accessing the space between protons and neutrons in dense environments. The research, which was carried out at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, has been published in the journal Nature and opens the door for more precision studies of the strongest part of the strong nuclear force and the structure of neutron stars.

    Radio waves detect particle showers in a block of plastic

    Radio waves detect particle showers in a block of plastic

    A cheap technique could detect neutrinos in polar ice, eventually allowing researchers to expand the energy reach of IceCube without breaking the bank.

    Predicting persistent cold pool events

    Predicting persistent cold pool events

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    Design of the W7-X fusion device enables it to overcome obstacles, scientists find

    Design of the W7-X fusion device enables it to overcome obstacles, scientists find

    Advanced design of the world's largest and most powerful stellarator demonstrates the ability to moderate heat loss from the plasma that fuels fusion reactions.

    Particle beam could help map Earth's magnetic field to understand how space weather impacts the planet

    Particle beam could help map Earth's magnetic field to understand how space weather impacts the planet

    Magnetic field lines that wrap around the Earth protect our planet from cosmic rays. Researchers at PPPL have now found that beams of fast-moving particles launched toward Earth from a satellite could help map the precise shape of the field.

    Topological materials outperform through quantum periodic motion

    Topological materials outperform through quantum periodic motion

    Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory have discovered that applying vibrational motion in a periodic manner may be the key to preventing dissipations of the desired electron states that would make advanced quantum computing and spintronics possible.

    January Science Snapshots

    January Science Snapshots

    Dinosaur blood vessels, giant viruses, and antibiotic-building enzymes


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    Register to Join a Special April 16 Media Tour of a Telescope Instrument that Will Create a 3D Map of Millions of Galaxies

    Register to Join a Special April 16 Media Tour of a Telescope Instrument that Will Create a 3D Map of Millions of Galaxies

    Members of the media are invited to attend a mid-April dedication of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), which is scheduled to begin its five-year mission to construct a 3D map of the universe in the coming months.

    Department of Energy to Provide $100 Million for Solar Fuels Research

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a plan to provide up to $100 million over five years for research on artificial photosynthesis for the production of fuels from sunlight.

    Fermi Award Now Open for Nominations

    The Department of Energy's Office of Science is accepting nominations for the 2020 Enrico Fermi Award.

    Chicago Public School students go beyond coding and explore artificial intelligence with Argonne National Laboratory

    Chicago Public School students go beyond coding and explore artificial intelligence with Argonne National Laboratory

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs and Outreach department hosted Computer Science for All -- Coding and Beyond, in December as a part of the Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago initiative.

    ORNL, TVA sign agreement to collaborate on advanced reactor technologies

    ORNL, TVA sign agreement to collaborate on advanced reactor technologies

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority have signed a memorandum of understanding to evaluate a new generation of flexible, cost-effective advanced nuclear reactors.

    Argonne leads award-winning collaboration with Kairos Power that unveils new simulation of nuclear power plants

    Argonne leads award-winning collaboration with Kairos Power that unveils new simulation of nuclear power plants

    Argonne scientists won a 2019 R&D 100 award for collaborating with Kairos Power to create software that simulates entire nuclear power plants.

    Rare-earths experts at CMI debut a unique new research capability

    Rare-earths experts at CMI debut a unique new research capability

    Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute have a new and more accurate tool--a start-to-finish, controlled atmosphere materials processing system.

    Paul K. Kearns named 2020 FLC Laboratory Director of the Year

    Paul K. Kearns named 2020 FLC Laboratory Director of the Year

    Argonne National Laboratory Director Paul Kearns awarded Laboratory Director of the Year by The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC).

    Great Neck South Wins Long Island Regional Science Bowls

    Great Neck South Wins Long Island Regional Science Bowls

    UPTON, NY--On Thursday, Jan. 30 and Friday, Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory held two back-to-back installments of the Long Island Science Bowl, a regional branch of DOE's 30th annual National Science Bowl(r) (NSB). In this fast-paced question-and-answer showdown, teams of students from across Long Island were tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy, and math.

    Researchers seek to improve hydropower, lower electricity costs

    Researchers seek to improve hydropower, lower electricity costs

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded nearly $1 million to a research team led by Missouri University of Science and Technology to study ways to better harness the power of water as an energy source. About 10% of electricity in the U.S. is created by moving water, or hydropower, according to the DOE's Hydropower Vision report, which also found great potential in improving hydropower systems to meet more U.


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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Scientists designed and connected two different artificial cells to each other to produce molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Bone and mollusk shells are composite systems that combine living cells and inorganic components. This allows them to regenerate and change structure while also being very strong and durable. Borrowing from this amazing complexity, researchers have been exploring a new class of materials called engineered living materials (ELMs).

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Researchers developed two new methods to assess and remove error in how scientists measure quantum systems. By reducing quantum "noise" - uncertainty inherent to quantum processes - these new methods improve accuracy and precision.

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    Lanthanum strontium manganite (LSMO) is a widely applicable material, from magnetic tunnel junctions to solid oxide fuel cells. However, when it gets thin, its behavior changes for the worse. The reason why was not known. Now, using two theoretical methods, a team determined what happens.

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    How an ion behaves when isolated within an analytical instrument can differ from how it behaves in the environment. Now, Xue-Bin Wang at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a way to bring ions and molecules together in clusters to better discover their properties and predict their behavior.

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Shape affects how the particles fit together and, in turn, the resulting material. For the first time, a team observed the self-assembly of nanoparticles with tetrahedral shapes.

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.


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