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Nature. 2010 Feb 18;463(7283):926-9. doi: 10.1038/nature08776.

A precision measurement of the gravitational redshift by the interference of matter waves.

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Department of Physics, 366 Le Conte Hall MS 7300, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


One of the central predictions of metric theories of gravity, such as general relativity, is that a clock in a gravitational potential U will run more slowly by a factor of 1 + U/c(2), where c is the velocity of light, as compared to a similar clock outside the potential. This effect, known as gravitational redshift, is important to the operation of the global positioning system, timekeeping and future experiments with ultra-precise, space-based clocks (such as searches for variations in fundamental constants). The gravitational redshift has been measured using clocks on a tower, an aircraft and a rocket, currently reaching an accuracy of 7 x 10(-5). Here we show that laboratory experiments based on quantum interference of atoms enable a much more precise measurement, yielding an accuracy of 7 x 10(-9). Our result supports the view that gravity is a manifestation of space-time curvature, an underlying principle of general relativity that has come under scrutiny in connection with the search for a theory of quantum gravity. Improving the redshift measurement is particularly important because this test has been the least accurate among the experiments that are required to support curved space-time theories.


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