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Science

Yoctonewton Detector Smashes Force Sensing Record 214

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the stop-being-so-sensitive dept.
KentuckyFC writes "A team of physicists has measured the smallest force ever recorded, at 174 yoctonewtons (yocto=10^-24), beating the previous best by three orders of magnitude. Their measurement device consists of a few dozen beryllium ions trapped in magnetic and electric fields using a device called a Penning trap. These ions vibrate at between a few mega and kilohertz, frequencies that can be accurately measured by bouncing laser light off the ions and measuring any Doppler shift they cause. Being charged, the ions are highly susceptible to the tiny forces associated with stray magnetic and electric fields, which change the frequency at which the ions vibrate. Hence the super-sensitive measurements. They team says that straightforward modifications should allow them to measure single yoctonewtons in the near future. This sudden leap in sensitivity could cause a problem for the system of SI prefixes, which don't yet come any smaller than yocto."
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Yoctonewton Detector Smashes Force Sensing Record

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  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @07:54AM (#31774546)

    I, hereby, propose the diminewtons.

    They should've started from the tiniest entity, like we CSs did with the bits.

    They won't hear us complain of not having a name for portions of a yotabit.

    • so in an analog world, what is the smallest unit then?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by thijsh (910751)
        Zero
      • by tsalmark (1265778)
        Assuming Thanshin is not a complete idiot, I think you just got Whooooooooshed.
        • by Thanshin (1188877)

          Assuming Thanshin is not a complete idiot, I think you just got Whooooooooshed.

          Maybe (+1 Not a complete idiot) would be a bit contemptous, but I think it's time we get a (-1 Whoosh).

          Or maybe a (+0 Whoosh).

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ciroknight (601098)
        Depends on what we're talking about. Probably Planck units [wikipedia.org] is about the best we can do, so starting with ~10^-100-ish would be a good first guess.
        • by mea37 (1201159)

          I'm not quite following you here. I'll admit my physics is pretty rusty, but your own article puts the Plank unit of force at something on the order of 10^44 Newtons... so if we used that as the basic unit of force, not only wouldn't we have a prefix for a number of force units representing the smallest force we can detect; we wouldn't even have a prefix for a number of force units representing the weight of any every-day object.

      • by mea37 (1201159)

        I don't see much support for the argument that the world at microscopic scales is analog.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anne_Nonymous (313852)

      Fig. The prefix should definitely be fig.

  • zepto
    yocto

    Seems like the logical next steps would be prefixes starting with x, then w, etc. So:

    xocto
    wupto
    vecto
    etc.

    I doubt that the measurement of forces will go that many more orders of magnitude beyond where they're already measuring things.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      No, but we'll need for them for other things. What will we do after Apple makes the iPod Yocto?
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      zepto
      yocto

      Seems like the logical next steps would be prefixes starting with x, then w, etc. So:

      xocto
      wupto
      vecto
      etc.

      I doubt that the measurement of forces will go that many more orders of magnitude beyond where they're already measuring things.

      Yeah, but what are the base2 derived prefixes? zebti, yobti, xobti, wubti, vebti, etc?

    • Hold my hat, I'm off to the trademark office to register those names and variations, as well as buy the .com .net and .org!
    • by NevarMore (248971)

      I doubt that the measurement of forces will go that many more orders of magnitude beyond where they're already measuring things.

      Turn your card in at the doo....oh 7 digit UID.

      Saying "${THING} will be {big|small} enough to do something forever" is pretty much a guarantee that it will last as a limit for a very brief time.

  • It's 10E-24 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ugen (93902) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:02AM (#31774646)

    There is an accepted mathematical (and computer) notation for it. Please use that - there is no need to resort to the equivalent of emoticons.

    As an aside, why does every possible potential fraction of a unit need it's own prefix? Unless it is widely used to warrant a prefix, using a numeric power is just fine. Somehow I doubt these units will be common enough for anyone to even remember. SI is really going overboard on this, taking an idea to absurdity.

    • the emoticonewton

      or perhaps the :)newton, 8-(newton, :-Pnewton, ;\newton, etc

      this is a great idea you've had! pat yourself on the back

    • by vegiVamp (518171)
      You don't do a lot of actual sound-based talking to people, I guess. "One zlotnikNewton" rolls off the tongue quite a lot smoother than "one to the power of minus 24 Newton".
      • by MoonBuggy (611105)

        That does, however, break down when you say "One Yoctonewton" and then have to immediately add "that's ten to the minus 24". Words are only efficient if people actually know what they mean!

        Even regularly dealing with extreme orders of magnitude, pretty much everyone I work with knows from 'nano' to 'tera' and then just automatically switches to powers of ten.

        • by vegiVamp (518171)
          The same is true when talking about, say, recursive structures in an object-oriented context.

          Words are at their most useful in conversations with people who know what you're talking about. News at 11.
    • by xaxa (988988)

      When you are comparing lots of values the prefix is useful, also when reading/speaking them.

      "We measured forces of 12.0yN, 25.2yN, 124yN and 3529yN" is more easily processed (by my brain at least!) than "We measured forces of 12.0e-24 N, 25.2e-24 N, 124e-24 N and 3529e-24 N". Note that I wrote 3529yN rather than 3.529zN, it's clearer.

      (How far did you travel to work? 7.5km, or 7.5e3 m?)

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Well, on the other side it's pretty handy. I'd hate to have to use scientific notation to tell someone the size of a harddrive I just bought.
    • Prefixes can be combined anyways. Milliyocto and microyocto would satisfy 10^-27 and 10^-30, respectively. This is similar to older papers that I have seen in which micromicro was substituted for pico (i.e., uuM for pM). It would only become annoying after yoctoyocto (10^-48). One yocto is silly enough.
  • by forand (530402) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:04AM (#31774660) Homepage
    Haven't had time to read the article but it would amazing if force measurements at these levels could be conducted between well characterized masses to validate general relativity at low mass short distance scales.
    • Could something like this be useful for experiments like the CDMS, which are searching for non-baryonic particles?

    • by eggoeater (704775)
      There's a couple of problems with any validation of general relativity short distance scales. Pretty much any measurement you take would fall within the range of experimental error due to things like Brownian motion and quantum effects of working at such a small scale. ...
    • by radtea (464814)

      Haven't had time to read the article but it would amazing if force measurements at these levels could be conducted between well characterized masses to validate general relativity at low mass short distance scales.

      The value of G is 6.67x10-11 N*m**2/kg**2

      So the Newtonian force between 1 kg masses as 1 m is 12 or so orders of magnitude larger than this device can measure... BUT, there is no way of coupling six atoms gravitationally--they have masses ~10-25 kg. And using the Earth or something like that as the test mass won't do, at least not easily, as it is full of non-idealities.

      GR has already been tested pretty well at terrestrial scales--GPS accuracy depends on getting the GR corrections right, for example. This

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Steve Max (1235710)

        GR (or actually, the Newtonian approximation) has been tested down to distances of ~1mm; for two ~1kg masses, that would be a force of ~10^-4 N. We don't want to get "G" to a better precision (well, we do, but that's not the point of those experiments); we want to see if at small distances the force deviates from the expected (1/r) behaviour. Such a deviation would mean that there are more than 4 spacetime dimensions (with the extra dimensions being compactified, meaning they have a size of only a small fra

  • Work on it (Score:3, Funny)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:11AM (#31774738)
    ...And yet still not sensitive enough to measure how fast I jumped when my niece recently asked me if I wanted a Miley Cyrus ticket too.
  • into a bunch of humorous suggestions for the name of units smaller than yocto

    allow me to start the noble proceedings:

    mosquito-newtons

    eensyteensy-newtowns

    feelingsofinadequacy-newtons

    napoleoncomplex-newtowns

    wheredididropit-newtons

    2009GNP-newtons

    loco-newtons

    gonzo-newtons

    artdeco-newtons

    your turn

  • by RealErmine (621439) <commerce.wordhole@net> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:17AM (#31774822)

    This sudden leap in sensitivity could cause a problem for the system of SI prefixes which don't yet come any smaller than yocto.

    I say that the SI authority open the floor for commercial advertisers to sponsor smaller prefixes.

    Future announcements might include: "Physicists break force measurement record with device sensitive to 10 Applenewtons."

  • In laymans terms, what does this actually mean?

    From how many hundreds of miles away can we detect a sparrow fart? Or more slashdot related, how many miles away can someone detect my unencrypted wireless AP?

    • in proper slashdot parlance, you must:

      1. translate yoctonewtons into libraries of congress units
      2. contemplate a beowulf cluster of them
      3. explain their significance with a car analogy

      • by oodaloop (1229816)
        You must be new here. In any vertical list of sequential positive integers, one entry must always be 'coyboyneal', and one must be'...', which is always followed by the last entry, 'profit'.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      In laymans terms, they can now detect the force emanating from a single midichlorian.

  • Not one Obi-wan Kenobi quote in the whole thread yet. None of you are geeks. You're just nerds. NERDS!
  • beyond yocto (Score:5, Informative)

    by migloo (671559) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:24AM (#31774918)
    Logically, 10^-27 would be called xennea
    The recurrence is:
    zepta (Z + hepta=7)
    yocto (Y + okto=8)
    xennea(X + ennea=9)
  • I could help these guys out with the prefix issue. But after the whole kibi/mebi/gibbi nonsense, I'm not feeling inclined to. They'll have to suffer with what they've got.
  • by hAckz0r (989977) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @09:32AM (#31775922)
    I have to wonder what exactly they expect to measure with such a device. The premise of the Penning trap device is to use a static magnetic field (magnets) and an electric field (electric circuits) to cap the ends of the device to contain the super cooled, in this case beryllium ions. In order to "measure" external electric fields one has to let in external electromagnetic radiation, which will not come without having some overall effects on the containment vessel and circuitry as well. With external electromagnetic radiation power propagating at r^2 the vessel will get more of a dose than the beryllium ions and the electric field will have some level of modulation which will in turn make the ions vibrate in the axial direction based on the reactance of the containment circuitry, not the primary waveform desired to be measured. Yes, you will measure vibrations at the quantum level, but are you really measuring what you think you are? The device is likely so sensitive that due to the uncertainty principal it may defy us the ability to prove what is actually being measured.
    • by kimvette (919543)

      I have to wonder what exactly they expect to measure with such a device.

      I have the answer: the net power output of the "magnet motors" you see on youtube.

  • Let me guess how this experiment started...

    Scientist 1: "Let's see who can punch the softest. You go first!"
    Scientist 2: "I managed to punch with 6 Yoctonewtons! Beat that!"
    Scientist 2: "OW!"
    Scientist 1: "You win."

  • Both the summary and the article express how much smaller something is, without saying "n times smaller." If you never believed in miracles, here is incontrovertible proof!

  • The obvious next steps below Zepto would be Grouchto, Harpto, and Chicto. If they'd followed the logical course they'd be set for another two orders of magnitude, instead of having to come up with a new name in the middle of a recession. Do they think SI prefixes grow on trees or something?

  • As many of us know there is a movement to make "hella-" the SI unit for 10^27.

    Following convention, 10^-27 should therefore be "hello-"

    Which works perfectly, since that makes 10^-27 kitties...

  • Since:

    femto (10^-15) = Danish femtem (15),
    atto (10^-18) = Danish atten (18),
    zepto (1000^-7) = French sept (7) but with a z,
    yocto (1000^-8) = the Greek okto (8) with a y I guess to differentiate from 8,

    ...then it stands to reason the next prefix (1000^-9) will come from some language's 9, preferably one with a t in it. These could be:

    French: neuf
    Greek: ennea
    Latin: novem
    Albanian: nente
    Russian: devyat
    Many Slavic languages: devet

    My money's on devto.

  • Should surely be itti and bitti.

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.

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