(If you are not into frontier experiments and desire to read an article on real microgravity simulations, go to “Terrestrial Microgravity experiment now fits on desk. It creates Martian soil by gobbling perchlorates.“)
Space enthusiast know the theme. If you rotate and spin a space station you can create a form of artificial gravity called spin gravity. It works, and because it creates a gravity gradient, it would result in a very interesting research facility.
But what if you could create it at the flick of a switch, turning it on and off at will? This age old dream, right out of science fiction films, might no longer be entirely impossible. That it could be done was already tentatively demonstrated in 2005, during a research program in Austria. The link to the arXiv article can be found here: Using a fairly simple setup, first of its kind, researchers succeeded in measuring a gravitational force, and at 100 micro-grams it is unquestionably three times above the error of measurement, by spinning small 16 cm diameter superconducting rings (15 cm by 13 cm by 1.5 cm) of varying composition at fairly low RPM’s (only 6400 rpm) and comparing the results. From the three different material types tested (YBCO, Niobium, BSCCO) only the Niobium ring produced this spectacular and revolutionary effect.
The main goal of the researchers* was to discover if the effect was indeed real, and if there was a difference between the materials as predicted by theory. As predicted only the Niobium produced the electrogravitic effect, but to their surprise it was 10 times stronger than foreseen. The researchers were of course careful to hunt for parasitic forces and after having reproduced the effect 250 times over a period of eight months, they were confident of the result. Still, the researchers hid their revolutionary result in the innocently titled paper called “Fiber-Optic-Gyroscope Measurements Close to Rotating Liquid Helium” (link above).
The results are of great scientific interest because producing gravity at will, at any level, would help us to develop an understanding what precisely the nature of gravity is and how it can be induced, a mystery even Newton himself, although having succeeded in measuring and calculating the force in relation to the interacting masses of objects, conceded not having come any closer to pierce.
Now the researches want other laboratories around the world to pick up the pace, repeat the proof-of-concept-experiment and create a larger effect with more elaborate and engineered setups. With engineering akin to high performance flywheel designs, much larger rotational speeds could be created (large energy storage flywheels run at speeds of 60.000 RPM and higher).
Naturally, being able to control gravity would result in a myriad of applications. Today we find them in fictional scenario’s like anti gravity guns in shooting games, or artificial gravity hull plating, in space opera’s like the Star Trek franchise. They included the fictional technology to explain why their main characters could simply sit on chairs and gracefully walk around in their spaceship instead of floating around in hallways in tights and clumsily bouncing of the walls.
If you have access to a couple of hundred thousand Euro’s and superconducting materials, you can be the one who finally invents what all astronauts floating around in space want after one week, when the fun finally dies off: plain, good old, run-of-the-superconducting-mill, homegrown gravity.
But then again… the researchers could have just made a measuring mistake. I am intrigued, but I simply do not have the means to verify.
More details can be found in the linked arXiv article.
Let’s continue with our speculative musings.
With regards to new approaches to understanding gravity, exciting news is coming from the Dutch professor Erik Verlinde (TUDelft). His holographic and entropy-as-information approach to understanding gravity is turning heads, because when he plays with entropy equations, and EPR-pairs, gravity equations that can make sense of dark energy (but not dark matter, which he is only an emergent phenomenon) seem to drop out. He describes gravity as an emergent force, a result of entropy, not a fundamental interaction or a hypothetical particle like a graviton.
We’ll be reporting on that in a next iteration, but if you have the time: Take a look at his interesting exposition. His framework seems to go beyond Newton and Einstein, while building on both:
When you read Erik Verlindes papers, or watch his talks, -and he doesn’t address what follows since he is a serious professor still very concerned with shoring up the framework and hesitant to speculate too much-, the question arises in my head (not his) whether it could possibly lead to an engineerable solution. Since entangled particles play a large role, and he uses surface equations (inspired by work on black holes), the question is whether the creation of entire material plates with a higher density of entangled particles has any effect on gravity. Can we force it to emerge? It is not a prediction or speculation he makes, but it is one of the predictions his insights could possibly allow us to flesh out.
Today we can already entangle a small amounts of particles in the lab (e.g. at best a cloud of atoms in a Bose Einstein Condensate). Also, quantum computing and the related commercial interests are pushing the control we have at the atomic scale. Maybe in the future this indeed becomes a question we can ask and test. My personal goal is to find out if there possibly comes a day when I can write that article about “DIY Gravity Plating”. As you quite accurately guessed, I indeed watched all Star Trek TNG episodes during my formative years, so I just can’t help but wonder.
Anyway, it deserves to be explored.
“Fiber-Optic-Gyroscope Measurements Close to Rotating Liquid Helium”, M. Tajmar and F. Plesescu, Space Propulsion & Advanced Concepts, Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH, Seibersdorf, Austria,
We previously reported anomalous fiber-optic gyroscope signals observed above rotating rings at temperatures close to liquid helium. Our results suggested that the liquid helium itself may be the source of our observed phenomenon. We constructed a new cryostat experiment that allows rotating a large quantity of liquid helium together with a superconducting niobium tube. The facility is built in such a way that our gyroscope can be placed directly in the center of rotation along the axis; however, the cryostat is built around the gyroscope to allow measuring without interference of helium liquid or gas. An anomalous signal was found of similar value compared to our previous measurements with a changed sign. As this measurement was done at a different location (center position) with respect to our old setup (top position), first hints for a possible field distribution of this phenomenon can be made. However, due to lower angular velocities used in this new setup so far, our measurement resolution was close to three times the resolution of our gyroscope and hence our data represent work in progress.
(Keywords: Frame Dragging, Liquid Helium, Superfluidity, Superconductivity)