Atomic Clocks Make a Quantum Leap in Accuracy
Kyle Maxey posted on January 26, 2014 |

time, clock, time peice, quantum, atom, stronium, JILA, NIST, billion, yearsA newly refined strontium based timepiece takes the mantle of the World’s most accurate clock as researchers claim it would neither gain nor lose time over the course of 5 billion years.

As described in a paper published in Nature, the JILA strontium lattice clock is some 50% more precise than the previous record holder, the NIST quantum logic clock. Engineered by the Jun Ye Group at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the strontium clock uses only a few thousand atoms of the element to help keep time.

Packed into a lattice of 100 pancake shaped traps, the JILA clock’s strontium atoms are bathed in an extremely stable red laser light, exciting them to jump between energy levels. These jumps, which occur some 430 trillion times per second, represent the quantum ticks of this hyper accurate device and result in the timepiece’s incredible performance.

While the JILA clock has been around for a number of years, its most recently published results show a marked improvement in performance and are pushing the limits of quantum timekeeping.

Currently, cesium-based clocks, which were thought easier to make precise and accurate, are used to keep time in labs around the world. However, given the recent performance of their strontium cousins, age may be creeping up on the alkali metal timekeepers.  In fact, the NIST/JILA strontium clock will only grow in reliability over the coming years.

“We already have plans to push the performance even more,” said Jun Ye.  “So in this sense, even this new Nature paper represents only a ‘mid-term’ report. You can expect more new breakthroughs in our clocks in the next 5 to 10 years.”

Assuming Ye’s group can continue advancing their art, there’s no telling where they’ll end up within the next ten years. Perhaps we may even see clocks with an accuracy measured in universal lifetimes.

Images and Video Courtesy of JILA & NIST

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