Physics professor works on groundbreaking research overseas

6/19/2007 7:00:00 AM

Andrei Derevianko, University physics professor was awarded the Fulbright grant to fly across the Pacific to work with a group of physicists at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Derevianko will assist them in analyzing recent data on the supposed variation of fundamental constants of nature over time and space.

Laws of nature are governed by a collection of 25 fundamental constants, such as the charge of the electron or the speed of light. A prevailing view is that the constants are the same on Earth and even in the most remote corners of the Universe. Another assumption is that the constants have stayed the same over time.

But speculation of changes in the fundamental constants has been haunting physicists throughout modern physics. Only recently has the technology been available to provide potential proof that the constants do vary, Derevianko said.

"The idea can be traced back to the 1930's, Derevianko said. "But the evidence for this phenomenon only started to appear recently."

The group at the University of New South Wales, led by physics professors Victor Flambaum and John Webb, has had ongoing research on this phenomenon. The group has analyzed light that was emitted by atoms 10 billion years ago and found substantial evident that the constant alphay's properties differed from its present day properties.

The alpha governs the interactions that glue electrons and nuclei into atoms. If the alpha changes, the atomics properties, such as the frequency of the emitted light, would change, too.

Derevianko, will lend his expertise in theoretical atomic physics as part of his work with the group and will reexamine certain effects of environment on atoms. Derevianko will also analyze the existing data in order to determine whether atom's properties do change throughout time.

"Flambaum's group is the leading group in the analysis of this current data," Derevianko said. "They did a great job but at the same time, the analysis is convoluted and involves a number of assumptions that need to be critically reexamined. I would like to try alternative approaches to analyzing the astrophysical data."

Derevianko's research on this theory goes hand in hand with his past work on improving the accuracy of the atomic clock, a device that tells times according to atoms emitting a fixed frequency. If constants do vary throughout time, than the atomic clocks can be used to track the changes.

The outcome of Derevianko's current research with physicists in Australia may affect more than just the atomic clock. The conclusion that can be drawn from Derevianko's work with Flambaum may raise fundamental questions in fields such as fundamental physics and cosmology.

Derevianko is looking forward to working abroad in Australia, as well as uncovering new science.

"I'm happy to be there and be a part of it," Derevianko said. "The observational evidence by the Australians causes quite a controversy in physics. I'd like to contribute to either supporting or refuting this important claim."

Derevianko has been awarded other continuous grants from the National Science Foundation. He received his doctorate in physics from Auburn University and his masters in Physics and applied mathematics from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.


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