To find out, researchers trap aggregations of atoms or molecules in a beam of light and try to spin them at incredibly fast rates in a vacuum. In theory, such an experiment could evaluate whether quantum friction, which could slow the motion of quantum particles even without any external sources of friction, truly exists.
Mazilu and his colleagues wanted to look at even bigger objects that contain more than a million atoms.
The team manufactured a miniature sphere of calcium with a diameter of 4 micrometers, where a strand of hair has a diameter of about 40 micrometers, and then levitated the tiny object in a beam of laser light inside a vacuum.
By changing the polarization, or orientation, of the light wave, the team was able to exert a tiny twist on the ball.
Without any air friction to slow down the ball, the team was able to accelerate the object to incredibly high rates, reaching 600 million rotations per minute (rpm) before it broke apart.
In addition, the object acted like a tiny gyroscope, stabilizing its motion as it wobbled, which had the effect of cooling the sphere to minus 387 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).