Micsospheres trapped in liquid by so called optical tweezers have been established as useful tools to study microscopic thermodynamics. Since the sphere is in direct contact with the liquid, it is strongly coupled to the thermal bath and its dynamics is dominated by thermal fluctuations. In contrast, here we use an optically trapped nanoparticle in vacuum to study fluctuations of a system that is coupled only weakly to the thermal bath. The weak coupling allows us to resolve the ballistic dynamics and to control its motion via modulation of the trapping beam, thereby preparing it in a highly non-thermal state. We develop a theory for the effective Hamiltonian that describes the system dynamics in this state and show that all the relevant parameters can be controlled in situ. This tunability allows us to study classical fluctuation theorems for different effective Hamiltonians and for varying coupling to the thermal bath ranging over several orders of magnitude.
The ultimate goal, however, is to completely suppress the effect of the thermal bath and to prepare the levitated nanoparticle in a quantum mechanical state. Our most recent result indicate that this regime is now within reach.