Physicists at JILA have performed the first-ever precision measurements using ultracold molecules, in work that may help solve a long-standing scientific mystery--whether so-called constants of nature have changed since the dawn of the universe.
The research, reported in the April 14 issue of Physical Review Letters,* involved measuring two phenomena simultaneously--electron motion, and rotating and vibrating nuclei--in highly reactive molecules containing one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom. The researchers greatly improved the precision of these microwave frequency measurements by using electric fields to slow down the molecules, providing more time for interaction and analysis. JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Compared to the previous record, set more than 30 years ago, the JILA team improved the precision of one frequency measurement 25-fold and another 10-fold. This was achieved by producing pulses of cold molecules at various speeds, hitting each group with a microwave pulse of a selected frequency, and then measuring how many molecules were in particular energy states. The apparatus and approach were similar to those used in the NIST-F1 cesium atomic fountain clock, the nation’s primary time standard, raising the possibility of designing a clock that keeps time with molecules, instead of atoms.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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