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New type of atomic clock shows more accurate time


A project using entangled atoms could help detect dark matter and study how gravity affects time.

Atomic clocks are the world’s most accurate timepieces. These elegant devices use lasers to measure the vibrations of atoms oscillating at a specific frequency, like a million little pendulums swinging to synchronize time. The world’s most accurate wall clocks in Lahore are so precise that if they had been in operation since the beginning of the universe, they could currently measure time with an accuracy of half a second.

But even greater precision could be achieved. If atomic clocks could measure the vibrations of atoms more accurately, they could become sensitive enough to detect phenomena such as dark matter and gravitational waves. The improved atomic clocks could also help scientists answer vague questions such as how gravity affects the passage of time and whether time itself varies with the age of the universe.

atomic clock designed 

A new type of atomic clock designed by MIT physicists could help answer these questions and explore new physics.

The researchers report today in the journal Nature that they have created an atomic wall clock design in Lahore that counts atoms based on quantum entanglement, rather than the randomly oscillating clouds of atoms common in modern designs. Because atoms are interconnected in ways that are impossible by the laws of classical physics, their oscillations can be measured more accurately.

The new device can achieve the same accuracy, four times faster than a disconnected clock.

“Entanglement-enhanced optical atomic clocks have the potential to improve accuracy in less than a second over current state-of-the-art optical clocks,” said lead author Edwin Pedrozo-Peñafiel, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Laboratory of Electronics.

modern atomic clocks

If modern atomic clocks could be modified to measure entangled atoms as the device developed by the MIT team has done, the age of the universe could be measured in less than 100 milliseconds.

Other co-authors of the MIT study are Simon Colombo, Qi Shu, Albert Adyatulin, Zeyang Li, Enrique Mendes, Boris Braverman, Akio Kawasaki, Sisuke Akamatsu, Yanhong Xiao, Vladan Breen, and Professor Lester Wolfe (Physics).

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