Editor's Introduction
Measurement of the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle
Sometimes, scientists have to wait for technology to catch up. While working on Brownian motion, Albert Einstein proposed ideas that he did not yet have the tools to examine, prompting him to conclude that the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle would be impossible to measure in practice. Now, almost 100 years later, scientists have the technology to measure the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle, proving Einstein wrong in the process.
Paper Details
Abstract
Brownian motion of particles affects many branches of science. We report on the Brownian motion of micrometersized beads of glass held in air by an optical tweezer, over a wide range of pressures, and we measured the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle. Our results provide direct verification of the energy equipartition theorem for a Brownian particle. For short times, the ballistic regime of Brownian motion was observed, in contrast to the usual diffusive regime. We discuss the applications of these methods toward cooling the centerofmass motion of a bead in vacuum to the quantum ground motional state.
Report
In 1907, Albert Einstein published a paper in which he considered the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle (1, 2). By measuring this quantity, one could prove that “the kinetic energy of the motion of the centre of gravity of a particle is independent of the size and nature of the particle and independent of the nature of its environment.” This is one of the basic tenets of statistical mechanics, known as the equipartition theorem. However, because of the very rapid randomization of the motion, Einstein concluded that the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle would be impossible to measure in practice.
We report here on the meastaurement of the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle in a system consisting of a single, micrometersized SiO_{2} bead held in a dualbeam optical tweezer in air, over a wide range of pressures. The velocity data were used to verify the MaxwellBoltzmann velocity distribution and the equipartition theorem for a Brownian particle. The ability to measure instantaneous velocity enables new fundamental tests of statistical mechanics of Brownian particles and is also a necessary step toward the cooling of a particle to the quantum ground motional state in vacuum.
The earliest quantitative studies of Brownian motion were focused on measuring velocities, and they generated enormous controversy (3, 4). The measured velocities of Brownian particles (3) were almost 1000fold smaller than what was predicted by the energy equipartition theoremRecent experiments with fast detectors that studied Brownian motion in liquid (5–7) and gaseous (8–10) environments observed nondiffusive motionof a Brownian particle.
Einstein’s theory predicts that
The equation
For a 1μmdiameter silica (SiO_{2}) sphere in water,
For small displacements, the effect of optical tweezers on the bead’s motion can be approximated by a harmonic potential. The MSD of a Brownian particle in an underdamped harmonic trap in air can be obtained by solving the Langevin equation (14)
where ω_{0} is the resonant frequency of the trap and
The normalized velocity autocorrelation function (VACF) of the particle is (14)
In the simplified scheme of our optical trap and vacuum chamber (Fig. 1), the trap is formed inside a vacuum chamber by two counterpropagating laser beams focused to the same point by two identical aspheric lenses with focal lengths of 3.1 mm and numerical apertures of 0.68 (15). The two 1064nmwavelength laser beams are orthogonally polarized, and their frequencies differ by 160 MHz to avoid interference. The scattering forces exerted on the bead by the two beams cancel, and the gradient forces near the center of the focus create a threedimensional harmonic potential for the bead. When the bead deviates from the center of the trap, it deflects both trapping beams. The position of the bead is monitored by measuring the deflection of one of the beams, which is split by a mirror with a sharp edge. The difference between the two halves is measured by a fast balanced detector (7, 16).
The lifetime of a bead in our trap in air is much longer than our measurement times over a wide range of pressures and trap strengths.We have tested it by trapping a 4.7μm bead in air continuously for 46 hours, during which the power of both laser beams was repeatedly changed from 5 mW to 2.0 W. The trap becomes less stable in vacuum. The lowest pressure at which we have trapped a bead without extra stabilization is about 0.1 Pa.
For studying the Brownian motion of a trapped bead, unless otherwise stated, the powers of the two laser beams were 10.7 and 14.1 mW (15), the diameter of the bead was 3 μm, the temperature of the system was 297 K, and the air pressure was 99.8 or 2.75 kPa. The trapping was stable and the heating due to laser absorption was negligible under these conditions. In typical samples of position and velocity traces of a trapped bead (Fig. 2), the position traces of the bead at these two pressures appear to be very similar.On the other hand, the velocity traces are clearly different. The instantaneous velocity of the bead at 99.8 kPa changes more frequently than that at 2.75 kPa, because the momentum relaxation time is shorter at higher pressure.
Figure 3 shows the MSDs of a 3μm silica bead as a function of time. The measured MSDs fit with Eq. 1 over three decades of time for both pressures. The calibration factor α = position/voltage of the detection system is the only fitting parameter of Eq. 1 for each pressure.
The distributions of the measured instantaneous velocities (Fig. 4A) agree very well with the MaxwellBoltzmann distribution. The measured rms velocities are v_{rms} = 0.422 mm/s at 99.8 kPa and v_{rms} = 0.425 mm/s at 2.75 kPa. These values are very close to the prediction of the energy equipartition theorem,
Figure 4B shows the normalized VACF of the bead at two different pressures. At 2.75 kPa, one can see the oscillations due to the optical trap. Equation 2 is independent of the calibration factor α of the detection system. The only independent variable is time t, which we can measure with high precision. Thus the normalized VACF provides an accurate method to measure
The ability to measure the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle will be invaluable in studying nonequilibrium statistical mechanics (19, 20) and can be used to cool Brownian motion by applying a feedback force with a direction opposite to the velocity (21, 22). In a vacuum, our optically trapped particle should be an ideal system for investigating quantum effects in a mechanical system (16, 23–25) because of its nearperfect isolation from the thermal environment. Combining feedback cooling and cavity cooling, we expect to cool the Brownian motion of a bead starting from room temperature to the quantum regime, as predicted by recent theoretical calculations (24, 25). We have directly verified the energy equipartition theorem of Brownian motion. However, we also expect to observe deviation from this theorem when the bead is cooled to the quantum regime. The kinetic energy of the bead will not approach zero even at 0 K because of its zeropoint energy. The rotational energy of the bead should also become quantized.
References and Notes

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M.G.R. acknowledges support from the Sid W. Richardson Foundation and the R. A. Welch Foundation grant number F1258. D.M. acknowledges support from El Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) for his graduate fellowship (206429). The authors would also like to thank E.L. Florin and Z. Yin for helpful discussions and I. Popov for his help with the experiment.