Scientists create the world's fastest spinning man-made object

Microscopic sphere rotated at speeds of 600 million RPM using lasers.

A mock-up of the experiment. The changing colour of the laser lines as they pass through the sphere represent the polarisation of the light, which was the force used to spin the microscopic object.
A mock-up of the experiment. The changing colour of the laser lines as they pass through the sphere represent the polarisation of the light, which was the force used to spin the microscopic object.

Researchers from the University of St Andrews claim to have created the world’s fastest spinning man-made object.

The team of scientists were able to levitate and spin a microscopic sphere in a vacuum using only laser light. The sphere rotated at speeds of 600 million revolutions per minute (RPM) before it broke apart and disappeared.

In comparison this speed of rotation is half a million times faster than the spin speed of a washing machine and more than a thousand times faster than a dentist’s drill.

"This is an exciting, thought-provoking experiment that pushes the boundary of our understanding of rotating bodies,” said Dr Yoshihiki Arita, one of the scientists involved in the project. "I am intrigued with the prospect of extending this to multiple trapped particles and rotating systems.

“We may even be able to shed light on the area of quantum friction – that is – does quantum mechanics put the brakes on the motion or spinning particle even though we are in a near perfect vacuum with no other apparent sources of friction?"

As well as Dr Arita, the work was undertaken by Dr Michael Mazilu and Professor Kishan Dholakia of the School of Physics and Astronomy and published in the international journal Nature Communications.

The sphere itself was only 4 millionths of a metre in diameter and was constructed from calcium carbonate. It was held in place by the “miniscule forces” of radiation produced by the laser – a phenomenon similar to balancing a beach ball on a jet of water.

The team then span the sphere by using the laser's polarisation to exert a small twist or torque.

The vacuum conditions that the microscopic sphere was suspended in largely removed the drag (friction) that would have been present in a gas environment, allowing the team to achieve such a high rate of rotation.

“The rotation rate is so fast that the angular acceleration at the sphere surface is 1 billion times that of gravity on the Earth surface– it's amazing that the centrifugal forces do not cause the sphere to disintegrate!” said Dr Mazilu.

Professor Kishan Dholakia said: "The team has performed a real breakthrough piece of work that we believe will resonate with the international community. In addition to the exciting fundamental physics aspects, this experiment will allow us to probe the nature of friction in very small systems, which has relevance to the next generation of microscopic devices. And it's always good to hold a "world record" - even if for only a while!"

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in