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Einstein's prediction finally witnessed one century later


September 1, 2010

Raizan and team used optical tweezers to suspend the bead and observe Brownian motion for the first time


Raizan and team used optical tweezers to suspend the bead and observe Brownian motion for the first time Credit:

Einstein said it couldn't be done. But more than one hundred years later physicists at the University of Texas at Austin have finally found a way to witness “Brownian motion”; the instantaneous velocity of tiny particles as they vibrate. The “equipartition theorem” states that a particle's kinetic energy, that due to motion, is determined only by its temperature and not its size or mass, and in 1907 Einstein proposed a test to observe the velocity of Brownian motion but gave up, saying the experiment would never be possible.

More than a century later Mark Raizen and his team have finally proved this long-anticipated prediction by means of “optical tweezers”: a single laser beam was fired at a 5μm micrometer bead from below, suspending the bead in an “optical trap” mid-air using the force from the laser and the gravitational force on the bead. A plate-like transducer shook the beads to be tweezed and measured them as they were suspended, and the Brownian motion of the trapped bead was studied with ultra-high resolution.

Having noted that in this case glass beads were 3 micrometers across, Raizen and his team have proved that equipartition theorem is in fact true for Brownian particles. This is the first time in history that the equipartition theorem has been tested for Brownian particles, which forms one of the basic principles of statistical mechanics. They now intend to go further by moving the particles closer to a quantum state for observation. They also expect this to stimulate further research into cooling glass beads to a state where they could be used as oscillators or sensors.

As with much of quantum science, they don't expect the experiment to yield more answers than questions, however: “We've now observed the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle," says Raizen. "In some sense, we're closing a door on this problem in physics. But we are actually opening a much larger door for future tests of the equipartition theorem at the quantum level."

Mark Raizen is professor of physics at The University of Texas at Austin, and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair. His co-authors are Tongcang Li, Simon Kheifets and David Medellin of the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics and the Department of Physics at The University of Texas at Austin. Their paper is published in Science.


Presumably Brown(not Gordon) observed Brownian motion(nothing to do with going to the toilet!) Surely nothing can have instantaneous velocity? There must be an acceleration if the particle vibrates, which means moving from side to side? Was the bead suspended due to the impact of photons from the laser? Was it in a vacuum?

Apart from my questions, I could not understand the article.


i can\'t believe it, im with einstein in this.. there\'s something weird on this..

Javier Moreno

If a laser can trap a bead even though it\'s tiny, should a tractor beam, using the same principle be possible?


windykites1 got it right. protons striking the bead caused it to be suspended. An incomplete article, not very clear. Vague for a reason???

S Michael

4 foolish comments!! The lazer Beam is being used to cancel the force of gravity on the bead. . . It has >NO OTHER USE< in the experiment!! --- When ALL Else Fails .. R.T.F.I. ---


Brownian Motion at the quantum level does not result from nothing. The velocities (a vector with consisting of speed and direction) are generated by the transition of kinetic energy that is used to provide vibrational energy. The conversion of that energy is where the kinetic energy comes from. Just as light is produced by the drop in kinetic energy when electrons leave an excited state to a lower state (dropping from a higher orbital state to a lower orbital state).

Brownian motion on a non quantum level is a statistical description of motion. It appears both on the quantum level and non-quantum levels (Robert Brown wrote his paper in 1827). It is known to have been described as early as 60 BCE by Lucretius. It can easily be viewed by sitting in a room with a bright beam of light (sunlight through a window is fine) and watching the movement of dust in the beam.


"The 'equipartition theorem' states that a particle's kinetic energy, that due to motion, is determined only by its temperature and not its size or mass"

Except that a particle does not have a temperature - only an ensemble of particles has a temperature - and each particle's precise kinetic energy is not determined by the theorem, only the average (mean) kinetic energy of all the particles in the ensemble is determined. That this mean kinetic energy is determined only by temperature is true by definition of temperature.

What the equipartition theorem says is that this energy is equally partitioned among the various degrees of freedom of the particles i.e X,Y,Z translation in the case of spherical beads.

Eddie Edwards
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