NIST researchers trapped aluminum and beryllium ions in the device above in experiments designed to produce an atomic clock that could be significantly more precise than today’s most accurate atomic clocks. Credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology
NIST detects ’ticks’ in aluminum, with help from intermediary atom
Physicists at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have used the natural oscillations of two different types of charged atoms, or ions, confined together in a single trap, to produce the "ticks" that may power a future atomic clock.
As reported in the July 29 issue of Science,* the unusual tandem technique involves use of a single beryllium ion to accurately sense the higher-frequency vibrations of a single aluminum ion. The NIST group used ultraviolet lasers to transfer energy from the aluminum’s vibrations to a shared "rocking" motion of the pair of ions, and then detected the magnitude of the vibrations through the beryllium ion. The new technique solves a long-standing problem of how to monitor the properties of an aluminum ion, which cannot be manipulated easily using standard laser techniques.
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