WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- The world’s most stable metronome presently is a new model of an atomic clock.
- This new clock is an optical grid that measures time by counting the light swings in a laser beam.
- By absorbing and re-emitting this light, the strontium atoms in the clock are able to tick off each oscillation.
Compared to the previous record-holder, the new atomic clock model has a tick rate of about six times more precision. The oscillations happen about 430 trillion times per second.
Previous optical lattices lose their rhythm when strontium atoms bump into each other which limits the precision of the clock’s measurements.
With this new atomic clock, researchers assembled the atoms in a grid-like structure very thoroughly. Co-author of the study, Benjamin Bloom described it like eggs in egg cartons stacked on top of each other. Bloom is a quantum engineer at Rigetti Computing in Berkeley, California.
Applying the laws of quantum mechanics, the atoms are locked in this stable configuration and can’t bump against each other.
This arrangement helped to match the duration of each of the clock’s ticks. After testing the clock for an hour, every tick lasted the exact same amount of time as the rest, give or take a couple quadrillionths of a second. Almost perfect in precision. Its predecessor could warrant ticks that are identical only down to about 10 quadrillionths of a second.
Another co-author of the study, Jun Ye, said that just because the atomic clock possesses exceptionally steady ticks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t tick too fast or too slow. To assure this future atomic clock keeps accurate time long-term, Ye and colleagues must now compare it with other atomic clocks.
Ye is a physicist at JILA, formerly Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. JILA is an institute jointly operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder
“Time precision can help researchers improve their definitions for standard units of measure. Accurate timekeeping can also help physicists detect extremely small differences in how fast time elapses in various places,” said Paul-Eric Pottie, a physicist at the Paris Observatory. “This could help scientists catch gravitational waves rippling through space since any variation could indicate that gravity is warping time differently in different spots.” Pottie was not involved in the study.