New design enhances the precision of atomic clocks

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology successfully created a new type of clock that uses entangled atoms to measure time more accurately.

Atomic clocks are the most accurate chronographs in the world. They use lasers to measure vibrations of atoms, which have a constant frequency. The best timepieces today hold times so accurate that if they were to run from the very beginning of the universe, time is only half a second away.

However, atomic clocks could be even more accurate. In a new report in Nature , physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Electronics Research Laboratory, led by postdoctoral post-doctor Edwin Pedrozo-Peñafiel, said. has successfully developed a new type of atomic clock with 4 times higher accuracy. The device measures the vibrations of entangled atoms, instead of measuring a cloud of atoms that vibrate randomly like current designs.

The new MIT atomic clock measures time four times more accurately.  Photo: Science Daily.

The new MIT atomic clock measures time four times more accurately. Photo: Science Daily.

To keep the time perfectly, the watch would ideally track an atom's oscillation, but on such a small scale the atom works according to the mysterious rules of quantum mechanics. When measuring oscillation, it behaves like a coin that only averaging multiple flips gives accurate probabilities. This limit is called the Standard Quantum Limit by physicists.

That is why today's atomic clocks are designed to measure a gas consisting of thousands of atoms of the same type, allowing their average oscillation to be estimated.

However, the standard quantum limit is still working, which means that some uncertainty exists, even out of thousands of atoms, regarding their exact individual frequencies. This is where Edwin et al. Believe that quantum entanglement can be helpful.

The team argued that when the atoms were entangled, their vibrations were "bound" around a common frequency with less deviation. Therefore, the average oscillations that the atomic clock measures will have an accuracy that surpasses the standard Quantum Limit.

In the new watch design, the researchers entangled about 350 ytterbium atoms, oscillating at the same very high frequency tones as visible light. They then used standard techniques to cool the atoms and locked them in an optical cavity made up of two mirrors. Next, they project a laser through the optical cavity, where it interacts with atoms thousands of times.

"Light acts as a communication link between the atoms. The first atom to meet this light changes the light slightly, and that light also changes the second and the third. .. Over many cycles, the atoms get to know each other and start to vibrate similarly, "explained co-author of the study Chi Shu.

Finally, the scientists use another laser, similar to the existing atomic clock, to measure the average frequency of the atoms.

"By enhancing quantum entanglement, the new optical atomic clock has the potential to achieve better accuracy in a second than most modern optical clocks. The new MIT design will improve the clock. time has deviated less than 100 milliseconds in all the past in the universe, "says Edwin.

If atomic clocks continue to improve their accuracy in measuring vibrations of atoms, they will one day be sensitive enough to detect "invisible" phenomena such as dark matter and gravitational waves. This could help scientists decipher the mysteries of the effect of gravity on time, and answer the question of whether time changes as the universe ages.

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