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Possible variations of the fine structure constant α and their metrological significance

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2006 Metrologia 43 R1

(http://iopscience.iop.org/0026-1394/43/5/R01)

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INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS PUBLISHING METROLOGIA

Metrologia 43 (2006) R1–R9 doi:10.1088/0026-1394/43/5/R01

REVIEW ARTICLE

constant α and their metrological

significance

K A Bronnikov and S A Kononogov

VNIIMS, 46 Ozyornaya St., Moscow 119361, Russia

Published 12 September 2006

Online at stacks.iop.org/Met/43/R1

Abstract

We briefly review the recent experimental results on possible variations of

the fine structure constant α on the cosmological time scale and its position

dependence. We outline the theoretical grounds for the assumption that α

might be variable, mention some phenomenological models incorporating a

variable α into the context of modern cosmology and discuss the

significance of possible α variations for theoretical and practical metrology.

no well-established way of transition from multidimensional

The idea that fundamental physical constants (FPCs), physics to the conventional four-dimensional picture. It is,

including the Planck constant, the speed of light, stable particle however, clear that such a transition requires some procedures

masses and the coupling constants of the basic interactions (such as dimensional reduction and compactification) which

(above all, Newton’s gravitational constant G and the fine connect the four-dimensional effective constants with true

structure constant α), may be variable was put forward for the multidimensional constants and the characteristics of extra

first time by Dirac in 1937, soon after the advent of Friedmann’s dimensions. Thus, their size may suffer a non-trivial evolution

expanding universe models (1922) and their confirmation by in time and may depend on the position in external space.

Hubble (1929). In the subsequent decades, the possible As to observational data on FPC variation, there have

variability of FPCs in the course of cosmological evolution been very few positive results until recent years. Thus, some

as well as their dependence on position in space, on the researchers pointed toward a possible G variability according

magnitude of physical fields or on spatial and energy scales to astronomical observations, but, to our knowledge, neither

occupied quite a prominent place in theoretical physics and of these results was confirmed afterwards (see [10] for detail).

cosmology, including many works of the VNIIMS theoretical However, the very end of the 20th century was marked by the

group [1–11] and others. In addition to the above-mentioned advent of observational evidence [15] on the variability of the

FPCs, there appeared other ‘candidate variables’ such as, for electromagnetic coupling constant, the fine structure constant

instance, the cosmological constant and the coupling constants

of the weak and strong interactions. The basic motivation α = e2 /(h̄c) (Gaussian units), or

(1)

for such studies has been, and remains, the idea of unity of α = e2 /(4π ε0 h̄c) (SI units),

physical interactions. If the conjectured unified interaction

splits in different physical conditions into specific interactions where e is the electron charge, c is the speed of light in

known from experiment, the FPCs that characterize these vacuum and ε0 is the permittivity of free space. This and

interactions should depend on the circumstances of their subsequent works have made the subject of FPC variability,

manifestation, above all, on the spatial and energy scales and on and above all the variability of α, highly topical. This subject

the fundamental field intensities (a recent detailed discussion is no longer regarded as purely theoretical, and nowadays it is

may be found in [10]). rapidly increasing its experimental basis.

Thus, it is quite common to believe that unification of The electromagnetic interaction, whose intensity is

all physical interactions requires a number of additional (so- characterized by the constant α, is of primary importance for

Review Article

the macroscopic structure of matter and in an overwhelming of them constraining this variation by a few units times 10−11 ;

majority of observed phenomena. It is for this reason the best estimate was

that a possible variability of α would lead to variability of

the majority of existing references of physical quantities, |α̇/α| 1.1 × 10−11 yr −1 .

including such basic references as those of length, mass and

time/frequency. Other early results on the stability of α and e are described

The constant α, whose CODATA-recommended value is in Petley’s book [17].

The recent estimates of possible α variations have

α = 7.297 362 533(27) × 10−3 ≈ 1/137.035 99 diminished the uncertainties by 4 to 5 orders of magnitude as

compared with [11] due to a considerably increased stability

(the figures in parentheses mean the uncertainty in the of frequency standards. Thus, according to [18], a comparison

last two meaningful digits), is one of the most precisely of hyperfine transition frequencies in 87 Rb and 133 Cs over a

measured FPCs: the relative uncertainty is about 3.7 × 10−9 . period of about four years has shown that

Moreover, its dimensionless nature makes it independent of

any conventions or systems of physical units. d ln(νRb /νCs )/dt = (0.2 ± 7.0) × 10−16 yr −1

In what follows, we will briefly describe the basic

experimental and observational data on the possible α at 1σ . Neglecting possible changes in the weak and

variability and outline the main characteristics of theoretical strong interaction constants and thus in the nuclear magnetic

models which, to some extent, conform to the observations. In moments, this leads to

the last section, we formulate some conclusions and discuss the

significance of this research area for theoretical and practical α̇/α = (−0.4 ± 16) × 10−16 yr −1 , (2)

metrology.

where α̇ = dα/dt. Another experiment [19] compared an

electric quadrupole transition in 199 Hg+ to the ground-state

2. Empirical data on α variability hyperfine splitting of 133 Cs over three years, showing that

A great number of relevant observations and experiments are |d ln(νHg /νCs )/dt| < 7.0 × 10−15 yr −1

described and discussed in the comprehensive review [12] and

in the shorter papers [13, 14]. In this section, we mention and leading to

only some of the data presented there, seeming to be the most

convincing, and add some estimates and inferences of the last |α̇/α| < 1.2 × 10−15 yr −1 (3)

two years.

under the assumption that the gyromagnetic factor gCs and

me /mp are invariable.

2.1. Laboratory data

Reference [20] reported a comparison of the absolute

The laboratory bounds on α variability are obtained by 1S–2S transition in atomic hydrogen to the ground state of

comparing the long-term behaviour of oscillators with caesium, which, combined with the results of [11, 19], yielded

frequencies depending on α in different ways. In practice, the constraint

such a comparison leads to experimental bounds on certain

combinations of FPCs. α̇/α = (−0.9 ± 2.9) × 10−16 yr −1 . (4)

To our knowledge, the first comparisons of this kind

A comparison [21] of optical transitions in 171 Yb+

were performed in 1974–76 by two groups independently.

with a caesium standard for 2.8 years has shown that

Turneaure and Stein [16], at Stanford University, used

d ln(νYb /νCs )/dt = (−1.2 ± 4.4) × 10−15 yr −1 , which leads to

superconducting microwave cavities with a quality factor of

about 4 × 1010 and a resonant frequency ∼8.6 GHz. The α̇/α = (−0.3 ± 2.0) × 10−15 yr −1 . (5)

frequencies of cavity-controlled oscillators were compared

over a period of 12 days with a caesium-beam atomic clock, The laboratory measurements thus lead to results which,

and the relative drift was (−0.4 ± 3.4) × 10−14 /day. This led following from [20], may be combined to yield very hard

to the conclusion [16] that a possible annual variation of the constraints for separate basic constants including α. The above

product estimates show that the allowed variations of α in the modern

gp · (me /M) · α epoch are bounded to a few units of 10−16 per year.

Further progress in the near future is expected on the basis

was less than 4.1 × 10−12 , where gp is the proton gyromagnetic of improved frequency standards as well as the development of

ratio, me is the electron mass and M is the Cs nuclear mass. new methods of atomic experiments. One such method [22] is

Kolosnitsyn et al [11], at VNIIFTRI, the Russian based on the crossing of atomic levels in two-electron highly

time–frequency standard keeper, compared the behaviour of charged ions of different atomic numbers Z. It is claimed that

molecular clocks operating with ammonia molecular beams the effect of possible variation of α becomes strongly enhanced

and a group of caesium frequency standards. The caesium (by a factor of about 1000) when studied near such crossing

standard formed a scale for measuring the frequency of the points. Another method [23] is to use atomic transitions

ammonia generators. The results of the measurements for six between narrow lines that have an enhanced sensitivity to a

years (1964–1969) led to a number of estimates for α̇/α, all possible variation of α. The authors present a number of such

Review Article

transitions and claim that their method effectively suppresses interaction forces [28]. A detailed analysis has shown [29]

the systematic sources of uncertainty that are unavoidable in that, assuming that Er varied only due to an α dependence of

conventional high-resolution spectroscopic measurements. the electromagnetic energy, the following constraint is valid:

An improvement of at least an order of magnitude in

current α̇ estimates can be achieved in space experiments α/α = (0.15 ± 1.05) × 10−7 (6)

planned for 2008–2009 within the PHARAO/ACES Project

at 2σ level. The accuracy of the method is explained

of the European Space Agency [24, 25]. PHARAO, the

by the tiny value of the resonant energy Er ∼ 0.1 eV

‘Projet d’Horloge Atomique par Refroidissement d’Atomes

compared with its sensitivity to a variation of α, dEr /d ln α ∼

en Orbite’, which started in 1993, combines laser cooling

−1 MeV, so that the expected variations are smaller than

techniques and a microgravity environment in a satellite orbit,

0.1 eV/1 MeV ∼ 10−7 .

allowing the development of space clocks with unprecedented

It was later noticed [30] that two ranges of variations could

performance. Its declared objectives are, among others [24],

be compatible with the Oklo data:

(i) to achieve time and frequency transfer with stability better

than 10−16 and (ii) to perform fundamental physics tests. Its α/α = (−0.8 ± 1.0) × 10−8 ,

detailed description can be found in [25]. (7)

One can also mention quite a different type of α α/α = (8.8 ± 0.7) × 10−8 ,

variability predicted by the electroweak theory, which concerns

but the second range is hardly compatible with the isotopic

strengthening of the electromagnetic coupling with increasing

ratio of gadolinium. Note that the first range, assuming that

momentum transfer Q2 in particle interactions at energies

the time variations of α (if any) occur uniformly, translates to

approaching the electroweak unification energy [26, 27]. This

the variation rate

effect has been confirmed experimentally [26] by analysing

the processes e+ e− → µ+ µ− and e+ e− → e+ e− µ+ µ− α̇/α = (−0.4 + 0.5) × 10−17 yr −1 , (8)

at the TRISTAN e+ e− collider at KEK (Japan). The data

were accumulated at an average centre-of-mass energy of which is apparently the tightest of the existing constraints.

57.77 GeV, and α was measured to change from its known Some estimates have recently been obtained under the

value of α −1 ≈ 137.0 at Q2 = 0 to additional assumption that the low energy neutron spectrum is

α −1 = 128.5 ± 1.8 (stat) ± 0.7 (syst) well described by a Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution [31–33].

Taking into account the possible variation of the strange

at Q2 = (57.77 GeV/c)2 . quark mass ms along with the assumption that all fundamental

The latter variation is physically interpreted as a result of couplings vary independently led [33] to the allowed variation

quantum vacuum properties (see, e.g., [27] and references α/α < (1–5) × 10−10 , even more stringent than above.

therein) and manifests itself at energies much higher than Another result [34], free of poorly grounded assumptions,

those relevant to atomic spectra. It has therefore nothing to seems more realistic:

do with temporal and spatial variations of α at astrophysical

α/α = (4.5 + 1) × 10−8 ,

and cosmological scales. (9)

α̇/α = (2.25 + 0.5) × 10−17 yr −1 .

2.2. Geochemical data

The most recent α̇ estimates from the Oklo phenomenon

Very hard constraints on variations of α have been obtained [35] have been made on the basis of modern methods of reactor

from studies of the so-called Oklo phenomenon combined with physics, a detailed computer model of zone RZ2 of the Oklo

data on the lifetimes of long-lived radioactive isotopes. reactor and full-scale calculations using two different Monte

The Oklo phenomenon is a natural nuclear reactor Carlo codes: the Russian code MCU REA and the worldwide

that operated for about 200 000 years approximately two known code MCNP (USA). Both codes have produced close

billion years ago, which, regarding cosmological observations, results. It was claimed that many details of these calculations

corresponds to redshifts around z ∼ 0.14. The products of its differed from the previous work (e.g. the averaged cross-

operation were discovered in 1972 at Oklo uranium mine in section of Sm and its dependence on the shift of resonance

Gabon, West Africa. The isotopic abundance of the yields position due to variation of fundamental constants). Still

bears information on the nuclear reaction rates at that time, no evidence for α variations was found, with the resulting

which in turn depended on the current values of α. One of constraint

the key quantities measured is the ratio 149 147

62 Sm/62 Sm of two

light isotopes of samarium which are not fission products. This − 4 × 10−17 yr −1 < (dα/dt)/α < 3 × 10−17 yr −1 .

ratio is of the order of 0.9 in normal samarium, but is about

0.02 in Oklo ores. Such a low value is explained by depletion A further improvement in the accuracy of these limits is

of 149 promised.

62 Sm by thermal neutrons to which it was exposed while

the reactor was active. The capture cross section of a thermal Some conclusions have also been drawn by analysing the

neutron by 149 Sm, i.e. the reaction radioactive decay of nuclides with known α dependence of the

decay rate. The best constraint was obtained from beta decay

149

Sm + n → 150

Sm + γ of rhenium into osmium with electron emission: as noted by

Peebles and Dicke [36], an extremely low value of the decay

has a resonant energy Er 0.0973 eV, which is a consequence energy, about 2.5 keV, makes it very sensitive to α variations.

of a near cancellation between electromagnetic and strong Still the constraints obtained are much weaker than (8) or (9).

Review Article

Laboratory studies of meteorites have led to the result [37] of a wide distribution of the target absorption systems over the

sky.

α/α = (8 ± 16) × 10−7 (10) An alternative method is to study emission rather than

absorption spectra. There are very few such estimates since this

for the last 4.5 billion years, which corresponds to z method, being sufficiently simple and direct, is less sensitive

0.45. Translation to the rate of change (again assuming its and is harder to apply to sources with large redshifts. Recent

uniformity) gives approximately measurements of strong emission lines of O III in a sample of

165 quasars have led to the result [45]

α̇/α = (2 ± 4) × 10−16 yr −1 . (11)

α/α = (1.2 ± 0.7) × 10−4 , z = 0.16–0.8. (17)

A shortcoming of this method is its indirect nature: the

Re/Os ratio is measured in iron meteorites whose age is not Essential improvements in emission line measurements and

determined directly. Besides, the constraint (10) only concerns analysis are anticipated in the near future [46], partly owing

the mean value of α for 4.5 billion years rather than its to the use of many-multiplet methods already employed in the

instantaneous variation rate. absorption spectra analysis.

The estimate (17) as well as tentative estimates of the

2.3. Astrophysical data Cambridge group (England) [47] point to higher values of α

in the past whereas the results related to absorption lines give

The first and not very confident observational indication on

preference to smaller α in the past. It appears tempting to

a possible variability of α has appeared from studies of

conclude that this apparent discrepancy may be explained by

remote quasars. The observed quasar absorption spectra were

some unidentified systematic errors. Arguments in favour of

compared with the corresponding laboratory spectra. The

this viewpoint have been put forward by Bandeira and Corbelli

details of the method are described in [15, 38–41] and others.

[52], who found that at least the absorption line analysis

One of the recent results [39] has been obtained by

could be subject to systematic effects, related to estimation

analysing the lines of Si IV in 15 systems and improves the

of different sets of atomic transitions at different redshifts, and

previous estimates by a factor of three:

these hidden correlations thus could mimic a variable α.

α/α = (0.15 ± 0.43) × 10−16 , 1.59 z 2.92. Another, ‘optimistic’ viewpoint is, however, possible [47],

(12) that this is simply an indication of spatial variations of α since

the emission and absorption methods are sensitive to the values

This result does not confirm α variations. of α in drastically different environments.

The many-multiplet method of Webb et al [15,40] rests on One can conclude that the present astrophysical data on α

a comparison of a few lines in different samples of sources: one variation are rather contradictory and need further verification

compares the shifts of lines which are sensitive and insensitive and improvement.

to α variations. A recent result [20] obtained from a study of

128 systems in the range 0.5 < z < 3 indicates lower values

of α in the past: 2.4. Cosmological data

α/α = (−0.54 ± 0.12) × 10−5 , 0.5 z 3, (13) The observed anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background

(CMB) and the abundance of light elements formed in

thus confirming the previous conclusions [15,40]. The authors primordial nucleosynthesis (PNS) constrain the variations of α

did not find systematic errors. on the cosmological scale at the level 10−2 . These constraints

There are, however, results directly opposite to these. concern much greater redshifts z than any others: z ∼ 1000

Thus, according to [42], for CMB and z ∼ 1010 for PNS.

Variations of α change the Thomson scattering cross-

α/α = (−0.1 ± 1.7) × 10−6 , z = 1.15 (14)

section and hence the transparency of the medium and finally

(from an analysis of absorption lines of iron of a single quasar). the recombination time.

Similar results have been found for a system of absorption lines A recent analysis of the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave

of the quasar Q1101–264 [43] with the redshift z = 1.839: Anisotropy Probe) data on CMB anisotropy has led to the

result [53]

α/α = (2.4 ± 3.8) × 10−6 , z = 1.839. (15)

α/α = (−1.5 ± 3.5) × 10−2 , (18)

A unified sample of Fe II lines gave α/α = (−0.4 ± 1.5) ×

10−6 for two systems with z = 1.15 and 1.839. for z ∼ 103 . It is, however, well known that a similar

The use of radio and millimetre quasar absorption effect on CMB anisotropy could be due to variations of the

spectra gave an independent estimate (unfortunately, for gravitational constant [54]. Besides, consistent constraints

comparatively small redshifts only) on α variations of the order of 1% could only be obtained

from CMB analysis combined with independent data on the

|α/α| < 8.5 × 10−6 , z = 0.25–0.68. (16) cosmological parameters characterizing the expansion of the

universe at times close to the recombination epoch.

As noted by Barrow [44], the same quasar absorption Barrow [44] used the observed CMB isotropy at large

spectra analysis leads to an upper bound on spatial variations of angular scales to derive strong observational limits on any

α such as |α|/α < 3 × 10−6 at 3 Gpc distance scale because possible large-scale spatial variation in the values of α

Review Article

and other FPC (the electron to proton mass ratio and the only weakly coupled to gravity and has a negligible effect on

Newtonian gravitational constant) assuming that their space- the background space-time geometry; a local inhomogeneity

time evolution is driven by a scalar field. The constraints was characterized by the Tolman–Bondi class of spherically

are strongly model-dependent. Thus, large-scale spatial symmetric metrics describing the evolution of a dust cloud in

fluctuations of α are bounded by 2 × 10−9 in the BSBM theory the presence of a cosmological constant. It was concluded that

(see below) and by 1.2 × 10−8 in the varying speed of light local virialization does not stabilize the value of the dilaton

theories. These derived bounds are significantly stronger than and protect it from any global cosmological variation. This

any others obtainable by direct observations of astrophysical indicates that local terrestrial and solar-system experiments

objects. It should be noted, however, that these bounds concern really measure the effects of varying ‘constants’ of Nature

variations between mutually remote regions of space with occurring on cosmological scales to computable precision [48].

approximately equal physical conditions and do not apply to Somewhat different results have been obtained by Mota

the possible discrepancy between the results of emission and and Barrow [49,50]. They studied the space and time evolution

absorption spectra of quasars (see the end of the previous of α using the BSBM varying-α theory (see section 3.1) and a

section): in the latter case, the emitters and absorbers are spherical collapse model for cosmological structure formation,

apparently characterized by drastically different gravitational considered as a perturbation to a homogeneous and isotropic

fields, matter densities and temperatures. cosmological background. Different assumptions were used

The PNS theory predicts light element formation in the on the dark energy equation of state and on the coupling of α

early universe, and their resulting abundances depend on a to the matter fields. It was found that, independently of the

delicate balance between the expansion of the universe and the model of structure formation one considers, there is always a

weak interaction strength, which in turn determines the proton difference between the values of α in a virialized overdensity

to neutron number ratio at the beginning of PNS. Ultimately, and in the background. In some models, especially at low

the predicted light element abundances depend on a number of redshifts, the difference depends on the time when virialization

fundamental constants, α being only one of them. has occurred and the equation of state of the dark energy. At

A recent study incorporating seven parameters [55] has low redshifts, when the dark energy starts to dominate the

yielded cosmological expansion, the difference between α in a cluster

and in the background grows.

α/α = (6 ± 4) × 10−4 , z ∼ 1010 . (19) According to these studies, it may happen that α and α̇

vary from galaxy to galaxy even at the same redshift, but the

A considerable improvement of the above estimates

evolution of α is the same in different sub-galactic stellar

is expected with the appearance and analysis of new

systems belonging to a single galaxy, or even in galaxies

observational data from the WMAP and Planck Surveyor

belonging to the same galaxy cluster [51]. It is, however, clear

satellites.

that the problem should be studied more thoroughly in a wider

According to [47], the CMB and PNS analysis on the

range of models.

whole favours slightly smaller values of α in the past compared

More generally, one can conclude that the whole set of

with its modern value. The absence of variations also remains

modern experimental and observational data leads to very

admissible at the level of 2σ .

stringent limits of putative α variations but leaves open the

The bounds (18) and (19) cannot be directly translated into

question of their real existence. Even more uncertainty follows

estimates of the admissible current values of α̇ since, to do so,

from the possible difference between local and global α

one has to assume a certain dependence α(t) which is different

variations and its model dependence.

not only in different theories, but even in specific models of a

given theory; see examples in section 3.

3. Theoretical models that predict varying α

2.5. Comparing data of different origin

Despite the weak experimental status of varying α, there have

The above discussion of possible FPC variability combined been a great number of theoretical studies in the recent years,

observational evidence from quasar spectra with solar system treating α as a function of certain physical fields which, in

data and laboratory constraints. Most of the studies implicitly general, change from point to point in four-dimensional space-

assume that local and cosmological observations are directly time.

comparable. This is, however, a strong assumption which may It should be noted that the researchers themselves stress

prove to be wrong. If a given FPC, say α, depends on a scalar the tentative nature of such constructions. Thus, according

field φ, a slowly varying cosmological background of φ may to [47], ‘any model compatible with all empirical data at a

substantially differ from its local values in a specific galaxy, given time, is certainly wrong since at any time some of the

stellar cluster or another gravitationally bound object. One can current data are erroneous’. It is therefore useless to build

freely imagine, for instance, that the Oklo data only reflect the artificial models with a large number of free parameters: it is

value of a stationary galactic scalar field whereas the quasar highly probable that such a model will be incompatible with

data feel cosmological effects. the newest data as soon as its description is published.

Shaw and Barrow [48] have found that this is probably In studies dealing with multidimensional theories, such

not the case, and local variations of the ‘constants’ are able to as Kaluza–Klein theories and different versions of string

track their global variations. A construction involving matched theory (regarded at present as the most promising unification

asymptotic expansions within a sufficiently wide scalar field theories), the dimensionless constants of four-dimensional

model is analysed assuming that the scalar (dilaton) field is physics are shown to be dynamical quantities [56, 57].

Review Article

However, the specific form of such dynamics depends not only where m, γ , k are constants (approximately of order unity in

on the version of the Kaluza–Klein or string theory but also on the Planck system of units).

the compactification scheme and the form of dilatonic coupling Considering Jordan’s picture as a physical one, the author

adopted within the chosen version of the theory. studies the modification of standard quantum electrodynamics

Accordingly, at the present stage, comparatively simple in this theory caused by the scalar fields and concludes that

and natural phenomenological models are preferable, which, the effective electric charges are σ -dependent. The time

on the one hand, should conform to the idea of unity of dependence of σ itself is affected by the φ field, which leads

all physical interactions and, on the other, should be able to decaying oscillations of σ in the modern epoch.

not only to predict the variability of α but also to suggest A cosmological model built in the framework of this

solutions to other problems of modern cosmology, such as the theory predicts comparatively rapid changes of α in the epoch

cosmological constant problem and the dark matter and dark corresponding to z > 1 (but close enough to 1) and much

energy problems. We will briefly outline two such models and slower changes in the modern epoch. This allows one to

mention some other approaches. reconcile the strong bounds related to the Oklo phenomenon

and the conclusions [15, 40] on a rather rapid growth of α in

3.1. Bekenstein–Sandvik–Barrow–Magueijo (BSBM) theories the previous epoch. The field σ is also able to play the role of

the so-called quintessence explaining the acceleration of the

This class of theories [58, 59] assumes constant values of the universe observed in modern cosmology.

speed of light and Planck’s constant; accordingly, a variability Other predictions of Fujii’s theory are the existence of

of α is achieved due to variability of the electron charge e a non-Newtonian short-range component of gravity and a

or the permittivity of vacuum. Thus instead of e = const violation of the weak equivalence principle. The orders

one assumes e = e0 ε(x), where e0 = const while ε is of magnitude of both effects are compatible with modern

a dimensionless scalar field depending on the space-time experimental constraints.

coordinates. Such theories preserve the usual properties of

local gauge and Lorentz invariance and causality. In these

theories, the conventional expression for the electromagnetic 3.3. Other models

field tensor in terms of the 4-potential Aµ is replaced by We have briefly described two sufficiently well-known and

elaborated phenomenological theories. Let us also mention

Fµν = (1/ε)[(εAν ),µ − (εAµ ),ν ], (20) some alternative approaches.

Anchordoqui and Goldberg [61] discussed the so-called

which takes its usual form if ε = const. The electromagnetic

quintessence, i.e. a minimally coupled scalar field playing the

field action has its usual form while the scalar field dynamics is

role of an ‘accelerator’ of the expansion of the universe, as a

described by the usual kinetic term in the Lagrangian (written

possible generator of α variability. They considered scalar field

in the form ε,µ ε ,µ /ε 2 ). The theories of this class differ from

one another in assumptions on how the ε field is coupled to the potentials combining a number of exponential functions with

rest of matter. different coefficients. Like Fujii’s theory, this model makes it

The cosmological models obtained in these theories possible to reconcile the tough constraints obtained from the

predict time variations of α (e.g. ∼ ln t in the matter-dominated Oklo reactor with the results of Webb et al obtained from quasar

phase in a spatially flat cosmology) and spatial variations of absorption spectra: they become compatible due to slowing

α whose nature and evolution depend on the dark energy down of the scalar field evolution in approaching the present

equation of state and the coupling of α to the matter fields epoch.

[49, 50]. Inclusion of the effects of inhomogeneity, so that the Damour and Polyakov [62] suggest a more general

dependence α(t) differs in the cosmological background and in approach: among the models of the universe containing

virialized overdensities, may naturally lead to no observable ordinary matter and a real scalar field, one singles out

local time variations of α on Earth and in our Galaxy even a class of low-energy models possessing invariance under

though such variations can be significant on quasar scales. diffeomorphisms and gauge transformations. The resulting

theories have a Born–Infeld type Lagrangian structure. In such

theories, the masses and g-factors of fermions, as well as their

3.2. Fujii’s scalar–tensor theory

electromagnetic coupling constants, are scalar field dependent,

The theory suggested by Fujii [60] contains, in addition to the whereas their electric charges and gravitational coupling may

metric tensor, two scalar fields. One of them (σ ) is a dilatonic remain constant. One then analyses the effect of all variable

Brans–Dicke type field with the potential V (σ ) = e−4ζ σ factors on the observed atomic spectra. The latter, as follows

(in the Einstein conformal frame, or picture), where is from [62], bear information on the possible variability of α as

a constant playing the role of a cosmological constant in well as the g-factors and particle mass ratios, and, moreover,

the Jordan picture; ζ is the so-called non-minimal coupling all predictions concerning the atomic spectra turn out to be

constant characterizing a coupling between the σ field and conformal gauge independent.

the metric in the Jordan picture. Another scalar field φ has a Bertolami et al [63], among others, stress the effective

conventional kinetic term and interacts with σ in such a way Lorentz and CPT symmetry violation that accompanies

that their common potential in Einstein’s picture has the form variable fundamental constants in any theory where these

constants are scalar field dependent since variable scalar fields

−4ζ σ 1 2 2 inevitably create preferred space-time directions. As an

V (φ, σ ) = e + m φ (1 + γ sin(kσ )) , (21)

2 example of such a theory, they analyse N = 4 supergravity

Review Article

in four dimensions, containing two scalar fields, and show them. Thus it is more surprising that so much effort is needed to

that some of its solutions lead to α(t) dependence compatible discover their variability than the belief that they are variable.

with the astrophysical data, though at the expense of some Meanwhile, the experimental confirmations of these ideas are

fine-tuning. In another paper [64], Bento et al considered a at present very poor and unreliable. This certainly concerns

cosmological model with a two-field quintessence, i.e. a set of all FPCs, not only α.

two scalar fields φ and ψ, minimally coupled to the Einstein An important and natural feature of all models is the

gravity and possessing the potential interrelation of the predicted variations of different FPCs.

Therefore, in both planning and interpretation of future

V (φ, ψ) = e−λψ P (φ, ψ), (22) experiments, such interrelations should be taken into account.

Thus, in the context of string theories, it turns out [62] that

where P (φ, ψ) is a third-order polynomial depending on both the quantum chromodynamics constant QCD and the weak

fields, while the electromagnetic field Lagrangian had the form interaction constant v are ‘even more variable’ than α [14]:

1 QCD / QCD ∼ 30α/α, v/v ∼ 80α/α. (26)

Le−m = B(φ, ψ)F µν Fµν , (23)

4 According to [71], any theoretical model, predicting

B(φ, ψ) being a linear function of both scalars. It was found cosmological variations of α over 10−6 due to changes of

that some solutions for this system describe a cosmology with some long-range scalar field, also predicts violations of the

weak equivalence principle (WEP) over 10−13 . To discover

a transient late period of accelerated expansion, making it

such variations, it is only necessary to gain one order

possible to fit the data arising from quasar absorption spectra

of magnitude as compared with the modern experimental

and comply with the bounds on the variation of α from the

constraints. This endows special significance to the space

Oklo reactor, meteorite analysis, atomic clock measurements,

experiments for testing the WEP planned for the next few

CMB radiation and big bang nucleosynthesis.

years: MICROSCOPE (planned sensitivity 10−15 ), STEP (up

Kirillov (see [65] and references therein) suggested a

to 10−18 [72]) and others.

modified field theory which is aimed at explaining all effects

Thus new space experiments and observations in the

ascribed to dark matter and dark energy without explicitly

area of gravitation, cosmology and astrophysics (improved

introducing them. A phenomenological manifestation of this

satellite observations of the microwave background, analysis

theory may be expressed as a modification of the law of gravity,

of supernovae and quasar radiation, space experiments for

such that, for a point source of mass M0 , the gravitational

testing the WEP and constancy of the gravitational constant

potential reads

G, laboratory tests of FPC stability etc) are expected to bring

GM0 new results of major significance for the whole physical picture

φ=− [1 + f (r)], (24) of the world. The discovery of a dynamical nature of a number

r

of FPCs, as well as revision of the level of fundamentality for

where the function f (r) may be chosen in the form many of them, will inevitably lead to a corresponding revision

in the foundations of theoretical metrology. Following the

(r/r0 ) ln(rmax e/r), r rmax , change in the general theoretical paradigm, the set of FPCs

f (r) = (25)

rmax /r0 , r > rmax ; will also be revised: parameters whose dynamical nature is

proved will lose their fundamental status, giving way to the

the parameter r0 , being of the order of 1–5 kpc, is different for basic constants of an underlying unified theory.

different galaxies while rmax only depends on cosmological If α does vary, a question of great interest for both physics

time and is now of the order of 100 Mpc. At r > rmax , and metrology is: which of the quantities in the definition (1) of

Newton’s law is restored but with an effective mass Mmax = α, namely, c, h̄, e or ε0 , is really varying. Different viewpoints

M0 (1 + rmax /r0 ). It is shown that such a modification is able to may be found in the literature.

account for all dark matter effects observed and, in particular, to The theories mentioned in section 3 modify the Maxwell

explain the whole variety of ‘dark matter halos’ in astrophysical equations and actually introduce a scalar field dependence of

systems. It is also shown that, in the modified theory, the the effective electronic charge e. On the other hand, Hehl and

galaxy formation process leads to an effective equation of Obukhov [67] note that, since e and h, as the units of charge and

state of the fictitious ‘dark matter’ with w < −1/3 (w being action, are invariants (4D scalars), to reconcile a variable α with

the ratio of pressure to energy density) and therefore it can the invariable (premetric) form of the Maxwell equations one

play the role of dark energy. The standard picture of the early may choose the speed of light c to vary. For variable c theories

universe is preserved, but the theory predicts variation of all see, e.g., [68], the brief review [69] and references therein.

interaction constants (including G and α) with the same time Though, as noted by Alfonso-Faus [70], such first principles as

dependence [66]. local Lorentz invariance and local position invariance disfavour

variations of c as compared with changes of e as a reason for

4. Concluding remarks. Physical and metrological varying α.

significance of FPC variations Hehl and Obukhov [67] mention one more possibility:

they represent α as

General theoretical considerations related to the necessary α = e2
0 /(4πh̄) =
0 /(2RK ), (27)

unification of all interactions and the requirement of unity of

the physical science lead, probably inevitably, to the idea of a where
0 is the impedance of free space and RK is the

dynamical nature of all known FPCs or at least a majority of von Klitzing constant (quantum Hall resistance). In these

Review Article

expressions, the speed of light c has disappeared. If, again, e interpretation. On the other hand, since this connection appears

and h̄ are regarded as true constants, the putative α variability to be model-dependent [48–50], spatial variations of FPCs

should be attributed to the vacuum impedance
0 that becomes deserve special attention due to their potential use for model

a dynamic (dilaton) field. selection in physics and cosmology.

Tobar [27] represented α in terms of the ratio of the quanta

of electric (e ) and magnetic (m ) fluxes of force of the

electron: Acknowledgments

1 e 1/2

α= √ . (28)

4 2 m The authors are grateful to L K Isaev, V N Melnikov and

The quantity α, being dimensionless, is independent of M I Kalinin for valuable discussions. KB thanks David Mota

the system of units used. Equation (28) makes this for helpful correspondence.

independence manifest, which is an advantage as compared

with the conventional expressions (1). The representation

(28) made it possible [27] to interpret the range variation References

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