Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NIST helps verify accuracy of the world’s best rulers

19.03.2004


Research paves the way to next generation of ’atomic clocks’



Three of the world’s premier measurement laboratories - including the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) - have lined up the "hash marks" from four of the world’s best optical frequency rulers and declared that they match. The experiments, reported in the March 19, 2004, issue of the journal Science, are a significant step toward next-generation "atomic clocks" based on optical rather than microwave frequencies. Such clocks are expected to be as much as 100 times more accurate than today’s best timekeeping systems.

Applications for ultra-precise timekeeping include navigation, telecommunications and basic scientific research.


Optical "rulers" are lasers that emit pulses of light lasting just 10 femtoseconds (10 quadrillionths of a second, or 10 millionths of a billionth of a second). The experiments demonstrated that femtosecond laser devices could be used to reproducibly generate and accurately control the frequency of electromagnetic fields---a critical step in taking the measurement of time beyond its current accuracy level of about 0.1 nanosecond per day (i.e., losing or gaining no more than about 0.1 billionths of a second per day).

These devices are called "frequency combs" because a graph of the oscillating electromagnetic waves looks like the teeth of a hair comb. The output of these frequency combs can be used as a ruler for measuring time and frequency. For instance, a femtosecond frequency comb can reproducibly divide an interval of an hour into 10 quintillion (one followed by 19 zeroes) segments of equal time. The combs also could be used in making ultra-precise length measurements.

Until a few years ago, the femtosecond laser devices were the missing link in the engineering of optical atomic clocks. The world’s current best atomic clocks, such as the NIST-F1 laser-cooled cesium fountain clock, are based on microwave vibrations in atoms with a frequency of about 9 billion cycles per second. While this is very fast, electronic systems can accurately count these vibrations.

But no electronic systems exist that can directly count the optical oscillations in atoms such as calcium and mercury at about 500,000 billion cycles per second. A frequency comb, functioning like the electronics in a conventional clock, would be used to divide the very fast oscillations of future optical clocks into lower frequencies that can be linked to microwave standards such as NIST-F1 and compared to distribution systems such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and broadcasts from NIST’s radio stations.

"These lasers are the gears of our next-generation clocks," says NIST physicist Scott Diddams, a co-author of the Science paper. "Our experiments made certain that the gears will run smoothly."

NIST physicists and collaborators compared the operation of four femtosecond laser systems of different designs--two systems built at NIST, one by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures in France, and one by East China Normal University in Shanghai.

The team compared the devices in pairs, with reference to a third device arbitrarily chosen as a standard, on six days over a period of several months. The teeth of two combs were lined up and then a radio frequency "beating" technique--the optical equivalent of using a tuning fork to determine how closely a piano key is tuned to the correct note -– was used to check the exactness of the match.

The NIST experiments are the first to compare the operation of multiple femtosecond frequency combs---thereby demonstrating reproducibility---and to verify that both the starting position of a comb and the spacing between the teeth can be controlled precisely.

The lasers used in the experiments emit light across a broad frequency range, from the visible to near-infrared parts of the spectrum. This versatility enables scientists to design frequency combs with teeth that match various optical frequency standards now under development, which, in turn, allows much better performance and increases the likelihood of practical applications resulting from the technology. One key application would be optical clocks much more accurate than today’s best clocks, such as NIST-F1.

Femtosecond frequency combs could be used to make more accurate optical clocks that could help answer research questions such as whether fundamental physical constants---essential to many practical calculations made in science---have changed very slightly over billions of years. NIST scientists already have used optical clocks to set limits on changes in one fundamental constant (the "fine-structure" constant that describes the strength of the electromagnetic force). Further studies of this type could help develop a better understanding of the fundamental laws of nature.

Scientists from OFS Laboratories in New Jersey collaborated on the frequency comb comparisons with the team from NIST and the French and Chinese institutions.


As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Technology Administration, NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade and improve the quality of life.

Ma, L.S.; Bi, Z.; Bartels, A.; Robertsson, L.; Zucco, M.; Windeler, R.S.; Wilpers, G.; Oates, C.; Hollberg, L.; and Diddams, S.A. "Optical Frequency Synthesis and Comparison with Uncertainty at the 10^-19 Level." Science 303, 5665: 1843-1845 (March 19, 2004).

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

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A better way to weigh millions of solitary stars
15.12.2017 | Vanderbilt University

nachricht A chip for environmental and health monitoring
15.12.2017 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

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: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>