At more than 60 billion revolutions per minute, a nanomechanical rotor developed by Purdue University researcher Tongcang Li and co-authors is more than 100,000 times faster than a high-speed dental drill.

Dr. Li and his colleagues from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter and Sandia National Laboratories synthesized a tiny dumbbell from silica and levitated it in high vacuum using a laser.

The laser can work in a straight line or in a ring — when it’s linear, the dumbbell vibrates, and when it’s circular, the dumbbell spins.

Spinning dumbbell functions as a rotor, and a vibrating dumbbell functions like an instrument for measuring tiny forces and torques, acknowledged as a torsion balance.

These devices were used to discover things like the gravitational constant and mass of Earth, but the researcher’s hope that as they become more advanced; they’ll be able to learn things like quantum mechanics and the properties of the vacuum.

“People say that there is nothing in the vacuum, but in physics, we know it’s not really empty,” Dr. Li said.

“There are a lot of essential particles which may stay for a short time and then disappear.”

“We want to figure out what’s really going on there, and that’s why we want to make the most responsive torsion balance.”

By observing this tiny dumbbell spin quicker than anything before it, the team may also be able to learn things about vacuum friction and gravity.

Thoughtful these mechanisms are an essential goal for the modern generation of physics.

“Our learn has many applications, including material science,” Dr. Li said.

“We can study the great conditions different materials can survive in.”

The research is published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Jonghoon Ahn et al. 2018. Optically Levitated Nanodumbbell Torsion Balance and GHz Nanomechanical Rotor. Phys. Rev. Lett 121 (3); doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.033603

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