JUL 28, 2022 12:00 PM PDT

A Portable Atomic Clock

WRITTEN BY: Hannah Daniel

The world’s most accurate clocks are hitting the streets.

Researchers led by Dr. Yogeshwar Kale, in collaboration with the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, found new techniques to make these vast clocks small and sturdy enough to bring out of the lab. The research was published July 5 in Quantum Science and Technology.

Optical lattice clocks are the most accurate in the world. While the average quartz clock loses one second every few years, an optical lattice clock will lose one second every few billion years. One optical lattice clock created by Jun Ye at the University of Colorado Boulder loses one second every 15 billion years, which is the approximate age of the universe.

“The stability and precision of optical clocks make them crucial to many future information networks and communications,” Kale said in a University of Birmingham press release.   

Bringing these clocks out of the lab could have massive impacts on astrophysics, navigation, geology, and many other fields. But these clocks are large and sensitive to the slightest temperature change.

Atoms are cooled to just above absolute zero and then trapped in a lattice. Then, the clocks measure the oscillations in the atoms to high degrees of specificity. This team’s clock uses strontium, which is the best atom for timekeeping because they vibrate so quickly.

The research team created an optical lattice in a box that weighed less than 75 g. The research team was able to transport the system over 200 km outside the lab and was ready to take measurements within 90 minutes of set-up. Their clock also was able to withstand a temperature change of 8°C above room temperature and temperature changes of 0.25°C per minute.

This research brings scientists one step closer to using these highly-accurate clocks in the field, revolutionizing the way that scientists take measurements in the future.

Sources: Quantum Science and Technology, Phys.org (University of Birmingham)

About the Author
BS Biology
Hannah Daniel (she/they) is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an additional minor in Creative Writing. Currently, she works as a reporter for Informa Intelligence's Medtech Insight publication, a business newsletter detailing the latest innovations and regulations in the medical device industry.
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