Feeds

Boffins build super-accurate atomic clock

300 million years without winding

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

The atomic clocks currently used for regulating international time zones are great and all, but who has the time every few million years to adjust them?

Fortunately, physicists in the US have figured out how to control seemingly "forbidden" collisions between neutral strontium atoms to make a clock that neither loses nor gains a second in more than 300 million years.

The research was done by the folks at JILA, one of the country's leading physical science research institutes, jointly run by the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Their latest findings are described in the April issue of the journal Science.

Like other atomic timepieces, JILA's strontium-based clock measures time by harnessing the natural - and conveniently consistent - vibrations of atoms.

JILA's clock - which it's been improving on for the last couple of years - traps a whole bunch of super-cooled strontium atoms in an optical grid of overlapping infrared beams. Strontium's "ticks" are measured by bathing the atoms in light from a separate red laser tuned to a frequency that prompts a uniform jump between two energy levels.

Using a whole bunch of atoms to measure the ticks increases the precision of the clock's signal, but the atoms tend to want to mingle - which messes with their internal energy states and minutely reduces overall accuracy.

Strontium belongs to a class of atoms called fermions. According to quantum physics, fermions can't occupy the same energy state and location at the same time. Therefore fermions in identical energy states can't collide. The difficulty is, in practice with JILA's clock, they do.

Scientists at JILA have now figured out that all this laser-to-atom action in the clock introduces a very small degree of inconsistency in the atoms. And once fermions are even slightly distinguishable, collisions can occur.

JILA's latest clock suppresses the atomic mayhem by reducing the strontium atoms' temperature to a few millionths of a degree closer to absolute zero and increasing the grid depth. The difference improves their previous version, which they introduced in 2008 by 50 per cent - resulting in a very impressive feat of not needing significant winding for more than 300 million years.

Ultra-precise clocks like this are actually quite useful for applications like improving the synchronization of telecom networks and deep-space communications. Also, casually mentioning that you made a clock that's accurate to a second for 300 million years is almost guaranteed to get you laid. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.