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Title: Motion in a scalar field
Author: Wong, Leong Khim
ISNI:       0000 0004 9359 8047
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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Light scalar fields emerge as a generic prediction in physics beyond the Standard Model. For example, they arise as new degrees of freedom in modified gravity, as Kaluza-Klein modes from extra compactified dimensions, and as Nambu-Goldstone bosons from spontaneously broken symmetries. Far from being just objects of theoretical interest, these scalar fields could also play crucial roles in resolving some of the most important open problems, such as the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Given this ubiquity in modern theoretical physics and their potentially far-reaching implications, efforts to detect or otherwise rule out these hypothetical scalars have burgeoned into a global enterprise in recent years. This thesis contributes to this ongoing effort by updating our understanding of how light scalar fields influence the dynamics of moving bodies, focusing on two novel scenarios. We begin by reanalysing the motion of electrons in laboratory experiments designed to deliver high-precision measurements of the fine-structure constant. The vacuum chambers employed in these setups make them ideal testing grounds for a class of scalar--tensor theories that screen the effects of their scalar mode based on the ambient density. If unscreened, the scalar exerts an attractive “fifth” force on the electron and, moreover, transforms the vacuum cavity into a dielectric medium due to its interactions with electromagnetic fields. Because these effects introduce different amounts of systematic bias into each experiment, good agreement between independent measurements of the fine-structure constant can be used to establish meaningful constraints on the parameter spaces of these models. In the second part of this thesis, we turn to investigate how ambient scalar fields influence the motion of binary black holes. Even though the models we consider are subject to no-hair theorems, the interplay between absorption at the horizons and momentum transfer in the bulk of the spacetime still gives rise to interesting phenomenology. We show that this interaction causes a fraction of the ambient field to be ejected from the system as scalar radiation, while the black holes themselves are seen to feel the effects of an emergent fifth force. Moreover, if the ambient field corotates with the binary, it can extract energy from the orbital motion and grow exponentially through a process akin to superradiance. Although these effects turn out to be highly suppressed in the regime amenable to analytic methods, the novel techniques developed herein lay the groundwork for future studies of these complex gravitational systems.
Supervisor: Davis, Anne Sponsor: Cambridge Commonwealth ; European and International Trust ; Trinity College ; Cambridge ; Cambridge Philosophical Society ; STFC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Theoretical physics ; General relativity ; Modified gravity ; Black holes ; Fifth forces