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Concept: Special relativity


That the speed of light in free space c is constant has been a pillar of modern physics since the derivation of Maxwell and in Einstein’s postulate in special relativity. This has been a basic assumption in light’s various applications. However, a physical beam of light has a finite extent such that even in free space it is by nature dispersive. The field confinement changes its wavevector, hence, altering the light’s group velocity vg. Here, we report the subluminal vg and consequently the dispersion in free space of Laguerre-Gauss (LG) beam, a beam known to carry orbital angular momentum. The vg of LG beam, calculated in the paraxial regime, is observed to be inversely proportional to the beam’s divergence θ0, the orbital order ℓ and the radial order p. LG beams of higher orders travel relatively slower than that of lower orders. As a consequence, LG beams of different orders separate in the temporal domain along propagation. This is an added effect to the dispersion due to field confinement. Our results are useful for treating information embedded in LG beams from astronomical sources and/or data transmission in free space.

Concepts: Quantum mechanics, Fundamental physics concepts, Physics, Maxwell's equations, General relativity, Spacetime, Special relativity, Speed of light


Inertial measurement of motion with Attitude and Heading Reference Systems (AHRS) is emerging as an alternative to 3D motion capture systems in biomechanics. The objectives of this study are: 1) to describe the absolute and relative accuracy of multiple units of commercially available AHRS under various types of motion; and 2) to evaluate the effect of motion velocity on the accuracy of these measurements.

Concepts: Medical statistics, Absolute, Measurement, Psychometrics, Units of measurement, Motion capture, Special relativity, God


When using our arms to interact with the world, unintended body motion can introduce movement error. A mechanism which could detect and compensate for such motion would be beneficial. Observations of arm movements evoked by vestibular stimulation provide some support for this mechanism. However, the physiological function underlying these artificially-evoked movements is unclear from previous research. For such a mechanism to be functional, it should only operate when the arm is being controlled in an earth-fixed rather than body-fixed reference frame. In the latter case, compensation would be unnecessary and even deleterious. To test this hypothesis, subjects were gently rotated in a chair while asked to maintain their outstretched arm pointing either towards earth-fixed (EF) or body-fixed (BF) memorised targets. Galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) was applied concurrently during rotation to isolate the influence of vestibular input, uncontaminated by inertial factors. During the EF task, GVS produced large polarity-dependent corrections in arm position. These corrections mimicked those evoked when chair velocity was altered without any GVS, indicating a compensatory arm response to a sensation of altered body motion. In stark contrast, corrections were completely absent during the BF task, despite the same chair movement profile and arm posture. These effects persisted when we controlled for differences in limb kinematics between the two tasks. Our results demonstrate that vestibular control of the upper-limb maintains reaching accuracy during unpredictable body motion. The observation that such responses only occurred when reaching within an EF reference frame confirms the functional nature of vestibular-evoked arm movement. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Scientific method, Observation, Vestibular system, Classical mechanics, Special relativity, Copyright, Frame of reference, Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation


In general relativity, the picture of space-time assigns an ideal clock to each world line. Being ideal, gravitational effects due to these clocks are ignored and the flow of time according to one clock is not affected by the presence of clocks along nearby world lines. However, if time is defined operationally, as a pointer position of a physical clock that obeys the principles of general relativity and quantum mechanics, such a picture is, at most, a convenient fiction. Specifically, we show that the general relativistic mass-energy equivalence implies gravitational interaction between the clocks, whereas the quantum mechanical superposition of energy eigenstates leads to a nonfixed metric background. Based only on the assumption that both principles hold in this situation, we show that the clocks necessarily get entangled through time dilation effect, which eventually leads to a loss of coherence of a single clock. Hence, the time as measured by a single clock is not well defined. However, the general relativistic notion of time is recovered in the classical limit of clocks.

Concepts: Quantum mechanics, Fundamental physics concepts, Physics, General relativity, Classical mechanics, Special relativity, Albert Einstein, Quantum gravity


The conservation laws, such as those of charge, energy and momentum, have a central role in physics. In some special cases, classical conservation laws are broken at the quantum level by quantum fluctuations, in which case the theory is said to have quantum anomalies. One of the most prominent examples is the chiral anomaly, which involves massless chiral fermions. These particles have their spin, or internal angular momentum, aligned either parallel or antiparallel with their linear momentum, labelled as left and right chirality, respectively. In three spatial dimensions, the chiral anomaly is the breakdown (as a result of externally applied parallel electric and magnetic fields) of the classical conservation law that dictates that the number of massless fermions of each chirality are separately conserved. The current that measures the difference between left- and right-handed particles is called the axial current and is not conserved at the quantum level. In addition, an underlying curved space-time provides a distinct contribution to a chiral imbalance, an effect known as the mixed axial-gravitational anomaly, but this anomaly has yet to be confirmed experimentally. However, the presence of a mixed gauge-gravitational anomaly has recently been tied to thermoelectrical transport in a magnetic field, even in flat space-time, suggesting that such types of mixed anomaly could be experimentally probed in condensed matter systems known as Weyl semimetals. Here, using a temperature gradient, we observe experimentally a positive magneto-thermoelectric conductance in the Weyl semimetal niobium phosphide (NbP) for collinear temperature gradients and magnetic fields that vanishes in the ultra-quantum limit, when only a single Landau level is occupied. This observation is consistent with the presence of a mixed axial-gravitational anomaly, providing clear evidence for a theoretical concept that has so far eluded experimental detection.

Concepts: Quantum mechanics, Fundamental physics concepts, Physics, Spin, Quantum field theory, Special relativity, Standard Model, Noether's theorem


The Einstein equivalence principle (EEP) has a central role in the understanding of gravity and space-time. In its weak form, or weak equivalence principle (WEP), it directly implies equivalence between inertial and gravitational mass. Verifying this principle in a regime where the relevant properties of the test body must be described by quantum theory has profound implications. Here we report on a novel WEP test for atoms: a Bragg atom interferometer in a gravity gradiometer configuration compares the free fall of rubidium atoms prepared in two hyperfine states and in their coherent superposition. The use of the superposition state allows testing genuine quantum aspects of EEP with no classical analogue, which have remained completely unexplored so far. In addition, we measure the Eötvös ratio of atoms in two hyperfine levels with relative uncertainty in the low 10(-9), improving previous results by almost two orders of magnitude.

Concepts: Energy, Fundamental physics concepts, Physics, General relativity, Mass, Gravitation, Special relativity, Equivalence principle


The burgeoning field of ‘clumped isotope’ paleothermometry, which has broad applications in geosciences, depends almost entirely on measurements made on two types of mass spectrometer with the same ion source design. Demonstration that these measurements can be carried out on a retrofitted mass spectrometer with a different type of ion source is important to the growing community of geoscientists considering employing this technique.

Concepts: Mass spectrometry, Atom, Ion source, Isotope, Special relativity, Isotopes, Isotopologue, Isotope ratio mass spectrometry


Manipulation of hand posture, such as crossing the hands, has been frequently used to study how the body and its immediately surrounding space are represented in the brain. Abundant data show that crossed arms posture impairs remapping of tactile stimuli from somatotopic to external space reference frame and deteriorates performance on several tactile processing tasks. Here we investigated how impaired tactile remapping affects the illusory self-touch, induced by the non-visual variant of the rubber hand illusion (RHI) paradigm. In this paradigm blindfolded participants (Experiment 1) had their hands either uncrossed or crossed over the body midline. The strength of illusory self-touch was measured with questionnaire ratings and proprioceptive drift. Our results showed that, during synchronous tactile stimulation, the strength of illusory self-touch increased when hands were crossed compared to the uncrossed posture. Follow-up experiments showed that the increase in illusion strength was not related to unfamiliar hand position (Experiment 2) and that it was equally strengthened regardless of where in the peripersonal space the hands were crossed (Experiment 3). However, while the boosting effect of crossing the hands was evident from subjective ratings, the proprioceptive drift was not modulated by crossed posture. Finally, in contrast to the illusion increase in the non-visual RHI, the crossed hand postures did not alter illusory ownership or proprioceptive drift in the classical, visuo-tactile version of RHI (Experiment 4). We argue that the increase in illusory self-touch is related to misalignment of somatotopic and external reference frames and consequently inadequate tactile-proprioceptive integration, leading to re-weighting of the tactile and proprioceptive signals.The present study not only shows that illusory self-touch can be induced by crossing the hands, but importantly, that this posture is associated with a stronger illusion.

Concepts: General relativity, Sense, Spacetime, Hand, Special relativity, Frame of reference


The famous eclipse expedition of 1919 to Sobral, Brazil, and the island of Principe, in the Gulf of Guinea, led by Dyson, Eddington and Davidson was a turning point in the history of relativity, not only because of its importance as a test of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but also because of the intense public interest which was aroused by the success of the expedition. The dramatic sequence of events which occurred is reviewed, as well as the long-term impact of its success. The gravitational bending of electromagnetic waves by massive bodies is a subject of the greatest importance for contemporary and future astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. Examples of the potential impact of this key tool of modern observational astronomy are presented. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Concepts: Physics, General relativity, Gravitation, Universe, Physical cosmology, Special relativity, Dark matter, Albert Einstein


Reducing sitting-time may decrease risk of disease and increase life-span. In the search for approaches to reduce sitting-time, research often compares sitting to standing and ambulation, but the energetic cost of standing alone versus sitting is equivocal, with large variation in reported mean values (0% to >20% increase in energy expenditure (EE) during standing).

Concepts: Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Cellular respiration, Classical mechanics, Special relativity