Observation of Brownian Motion in Liquids at Short Times: Instantaneous Velocity and Memory Loss

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Science  28 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6178, pp. 1493-1496
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248091

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Beyond Brownian Motion

On long time scales, the random Brownian motion of particles diffusing in a liquid is well described by theories developed by Einstein and others, but the instantaneous or short time scale behavior has been much harder to observe or analyze. Kheifets et al. (p. 1493) combined ultrasensitive position detection with sufficient data collection to probe the Brownian motion of microbeads in fluids on time scales that are shorter than the characteristic bead-fluid interaction time.


Measurement of the instantaneous velocity of Brownian motion of suspended particles in liquid probes the microscopic foundations of statistical mechanics in soft condensed matter. However, instantaneous velocity has eluded experimental observation for more than a century since Einstein’s prediction of the small length and time scales involved. We report shot-noise–limited, high-bandwidth measurements of Brownian motion of micrometer-sized beads suspended in water and acetone by an optical tweezer. We observe the hydrodynamic instantaneous velocity of Brownian motion in a liquid, which follows a modified energy equipartition theorem that accounts for the kinetic energy of the fluid displaced by the moving bead. We also observe an anticorrelated thermal force, which is conventionally assumed to be uncorrelated.

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