This 3D Quantum Gas Atomic Clock Offers Most Precise Measurement Ever

A Fermi-degenerate three-dimensional optical lattice clock.

This 3D Quantum Gas Atomic Clock Offers Most Precise Measurement Ever
JILA’s three-dimensional (3-D) quantum gas atomic clock consists of a grid of light formed by three pairs of laser beams. A stack of two tables is used to configure optical components around a vacuum chamber. Shown here is the upper table, where lenses and other optics are mounted. A blue laser beam excites a cube-shaped cloud of strontium atoms located behind the round window in the middle of the table. Strontium atoms fluorescence strongly when excited with blue light. Credit: G.E. Marti/JILA

JILA physicists have devised an entire new atomic clock that becomes the most precise timekeeper in existence. The clock called 3D quantum gas atomic clock sets a record for a value called “quality factor” and the resulting measurement precision.

Scientists developed this clock by integrating tiny three-dimensional (3-D) cube at 1,000 times the density of previous one-dimensional (1-D) clocks. Due to powerful synchronization in atoms, and the laser, the clock ticks purely and remains stable for a long time.

In reality, this 3D quantum gas atomic clock incorporates a globally interacting collection of atoms for collision and precise calculations. Thus, it holds the potential to usher in an era of dramatically improved measurements and technologies across many areas based on controlled quantum systems.

Physicist Jun Ye of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said, “We are entering a really exciting time when we can quantum engineer a state of matter for a particular measurement purpose.”

“The most important potential of the 3-D quantum gas clock is the ability to scale up the atom numbers, which will lead to a huge gain in stability. Also, we could reach the ideal condition of running the clock with its full coherence time, which refers to how long a series of ticks can remain stable. The ability to scale up both the atom number and coherence time will make this new-generation clock qualitatively different from the previous generation.”

Inside the clock, all atoms are arranged in a linear array of pancake-shaped traps formed by laser beams, called an optical lattice. The lasers trap atoms along three axes so that the atoms are held in a cubic arrangement. The atoms then avoid each other, regardless of how many atoms are added to the clock. The gas of atoms effectively turns itself into an insulator, which blocks interactions between constituents.

Thus, the clock can outperform all predecessors. For example, stability can be thought of as how precisely the duration of each tick matches every other tick, which is directly linked to the clock’s measurement precision. It also can reach the same level of precision of 1-D clocks 20 times faster.

Here scientists used an ultra-stable laser to achieve a record level of synchronization between the atoms and lasers.

During experiments, scientists found that clock achieved a precision of just 3.5 parts error in 10 quintillion (1 followed by 19 zeros) in about 2 hours.

Thomas O’Brien, chief of the NIST Quantum Physics Division said, “This new strontium clock using a quantum gas is an early and astounding success in the practical application of the ‘new quantum revolution,’ sometimes called ‘quantum 2.0’. This approach holds enormous promise for NIST and JILA to harness quantum correlations for a broad range of measurements and new technologies, far beyond timing.”