The standard model describing nature’s matter and force particles is known to be incomplete, and the conventional techniques (colliders, large detectors, etc.) for discovering new particles are becoming prohibitively expensive. Given the challenge posed by open questions such as the nature of dark matter and dark energy, it is important to find alternative ways to test well motivated theories that aim to solve the important problems of fundamental physics.
Precision instruments create a timely opportunity to search for new physics by measuring small signals in cost-effective experiments that are often well suited to university-scale laboratories. Novel instruments and methods that use quantum mechanics to achieve new measurement capabilities – so called quantum technologies – have exploded over the past two decades and lie at the core of this emerging opportunity. The range of instrumentation is broad, spanning current and emerging techniques from, for example, atomic and optical physics, condensed matter physics and quantum information science; with specific instruments that include atomic clocks and interferometers, high-Q quantum-limited resonators, and ultra-sensitive electromagnetic field detectors, to name a few.
Opportunities in Fundamental Physics
While new measurement capabilities represent an important opportunity for fundamental physics, designing a new suite of experiments empowered by precision instruments will require collaboration between experts in fundamental physics and experts in relevant technologies spanning several fields. Mindful of the promise of this emerging effort and aware of the challenges it faces due to its highly interdisciplinary and exploratory nature, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation convened a workshop in October 2016 to explore options for advancing fundamental physics via cost-effective, precision experiments. Over the course of two days, participants discussed promising approaches to addressing the major questions confronting fundamental physics. While tabletop platforms took center stage, the meeting entertained a broader range of ideas such as global arrays of low-cost dark matter detectors or efforts to find evidence of new physics by analyzing archival GPS data. Insights from these discussions are captured in the report Opportunities in Fundamental Physics.