Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NIST's second 'quantum logic clock' based on aluminum ion is now world's most precise clock

05.02.2010
Clock keeps time to 1 second in 3.7 billion years

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built an enhanced version of an experimental atomic clock based on a single aluminum atom that is now the world's most precise clock, more than twice as precise as the previous pacesetter based on a mercury atom.

The new aluminum clock would neither gain nor lose one second in about 3.7 billion years, according to measurements to be reported in Physical Review Letters.*

The new clock is the second version of NIST's "quantum logic clock," so called because it borrows the logical processing used for atoms storing data in experimental quantum computing, another major focus of the same NIST research group. (The logic process is described at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/logic_clock/logic_clock.html#background.) The second version of the logic clock offers more than twice the precision of the original.

"This paper is a milestone for atomic clocks" for a number of reasons, says NIST postdoctoral researcher James Chou, who developed most of the improvements.

In addition to demonstrating that aluminum is now a better timekeeper than mercury, the latest results confirm that optical clocks are widening their lead—in some respects—over the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, the U.S. civilian time standard, which currently keeps time to within 1 second in about 100 million years.

Because the international definition of the second (in the International System of Units, or SI) is based on the cesium atom, cesium remains the "ruler" for official timekeeping, and no clock can be more accurate than cesium-based standards such as NIST-F1.

The logic clock is based on a single aluminum ion (electrically charged atom) trapped by electric fields and vibrating at ultraviolet light frequencies, which are 100,000 times higher than microwave frequencies used in NIST-F1 and other similar time standards around the world. Optical clocks thus divide time into smaller units, and could someday lead to time standards more than 100 times as accurate as today's microwave standards. Higher frequency is one of a variety of factors that enables improved precision and accuracy.

Aluminum is one contender for a future time standard to be selected by the international community. NIST scientists are working on five different types of experimental optical clocks, each based on different atoms and offering its own advantages. NIST's construction of a second, independent version of the logic clock proves it can be replicated, making it one of the first optical clocks to achieve that distinction. Any future time standard will need to be reproduced in many laboratories.

NIST scientists evaluated the new logic clock by probing the aluminum ion with a laser to measure the exact "resonant" frequency at which the ion jumps to a higher-energy state, carefully accounting for all possible deviations such as those caused by ion motions. No measurement is perfect, so the clock's precision is determined based on how closely repeated measurements can approach the atom's exact resonant frequency. The smaller the deviations from the true value of the resonant frequency, the higher the precision of the clock.

Physicists also evaluate the performance of new optical clocks by comparing them to older optical clocks. In this case, NIST scientists compared their two logic clocks by using the resonant laser frequency from one clock to probe the ion in the other clock. Fifty-six separate comparisons were made, each lasting between 15 minutes and 3 hours.

The two logic clocks exhibit virtually identical "tick" rates—differences don't show up until measurements are extended to 17 decimal places. The agreement between the two aluminum clocks is more than 10 times closer than any previous two-clock comparison, with the lowest measurement uncertainty ever achieved in such an evaluation, according to the paper.

The enhanced logic clock differs from the original version in several ways. Most importantly, it uses a different type of "partner" ion to enable more efficient operations. Aluminum is an exceptionally stable source of clock ticks but its properties are not easily manipulated or detected with lasers. In the new clock, a magnesium ion is used to cool the aluminum and to signal its ticks. The original version of the clock used beryllium, a smaller and lighter ion that is a less efficient match for aluminum.

Clocks have myriad applications. The extreme precision offered by optical clocks is already providing record measurements of possible changes in the fundamental "constants" of nature, a line of inquiry that has important implications for cosmology and tests of the laws of physics, such as Einstein's theories of special and general relativity. Next-generation clocks might lead to new types of gravity sensors for exploring underground natural resources and fundamental studies of the Earth. Other possible applications may include ultra-precise autonomous navigation, such as landing planes by GPS.

NIST's original logic clock, method of operation and comparison to the mercury clock are described at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/logic_clock/logic_clock.html.

The new work described in Physical Review Letters was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research.

As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

*C.-W. Chou, D.B. Hume, J.C.J. Koelemeij, D.J. Wineland, and T. Rosenband. 2010. Frequency Comparison of Two High-Accuracy Al+ Optical Clocks. Physical Review Letters. Forthcoming. A preprint is available at http://arxiv.org/abs/0911.4527

Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nist.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Electrocatalysis can advance green transition
23.01.2017 | Technical University of Denmark

nachricht Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin
23.01.2017 | Ferdinand-Braun-Institut Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>