Scientists make atomic clock breakthrough

Oct 13, 2006

University of Nevada, Reno researchers Andrei Derevianko, Kyle Beloy, and Ulyana Safronova sat down six months ago and began work on a calculation that will help the world keep better time.

In competition with scientists at the University of New South Wales, the University team led by associate professor Derevianko conducted research that increased the accuracy of atomic clocks, and they did it without running a single experiment. The team's findings were published in Physical Review Letters.

"Our findings didn't take a lot of criticism," Derevianko said. "The results are too clear and obvious to be disputed."

In its research, the University team was able to isolate and explain a significant portion of the error in atomic clock output. The portion of error that the team studied has now been cut to one-fiftieth of its original size. The team's research was based solely on calculations, many of which were conducted on high performance computers.

Kyle Beloy, a third-year graduate student in the University's physics department, was the primary author of the paper containing the team's results and he was thrilled to play a role in such a notable find. Ulyana Safronova, a University research professor, also contributed to the findings.

In 2004, an Italian research team found some convincing evidence that suggested that atomic clocks were less accurate then previously thought. This evidence concerned the scientific community and gave the theory behind atomic clocks renewed international attention.

"It seemed like a good time to reexamine the problem," Derevianko said. "The uncertainty of the issue was a good primer for the research."

Atomic clock technology is based on the fact that atoms emit a fixed frequency. Lasers, which also have operating frequencies, can be calibrated so that their frequencies match that of a given atom. Since atomic frequencies are constant, syncing a laser with an atom and counting the laser's oscillations will always provide a steady measurement of time.

More accurate atomic clocks will lead to improved technologies. Most technical systems that employ satellites, including GPS technology, make use of atomic clocks; these technologies can now operate much more accurately.

The new findings are also paving the way for all kinds of new scientific experimentation. Extremely accurate measurements are required to make estimations about the behaviors of the universe. The extra time-keeping precision will allow scientists to explore hypotheses about the big-bang theory. The improved technology might even be accurate enough to provide evidence related to the controversial theory that universal constants, as in the amount of charge in an electron, are changing.

Source: University of Nevada, Reno

Explore further: Mobile imager of fast neutrons spots radiation source at a distance and through shielding

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Quantum effects in nanometer-scale metallic structures

Oct 22, 2014

Plasmonic devices combine the 'super speed' of optics with the 'super small' of microelectronics. These devices exhibit quantum effects and show promise as possible ultrafast circuit elements, but current ...

1980s aircraft helps quantum technology take flight

Oct 20, 2014

What does a 1980s experimental aircraft have to do with state-of-the art quantum technology? Lots, as shown by new research from the Quantum Control Laboratory at the University of Sydney, and published in Nature Physics today. ...

Cold Atom Laboratory creates atomic dance

Oct 20, 2014

Like dancers in a chorus line, atoms' movements become synchronized when lowered to extremely cold temperatures. To study this bizarre phenomenon, called a Bose-Einstein condensate, researchers need to cool ...

Recommended for you

New world record for a neutron scattering magnet

47 minutes ago

A unique magnet developed by the Florida State University-headquartered National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) and Germany's Helmholtz Centre Berlin (HZB) has reached a new world record for a neutron ...

The science of charismatic voices

18 hours ago

When a right-wing Italian politician named Umberto Bossi suffered a severe stroke in 2004, his speech became permanently impaired. Strangely, this change impacted Bossi's perception among his party's followers—from appearing ...

Urban seismic network detects human sounds

18 hours ago

When listening to the Earth, what clues can seismic data reveal about the impact of urban life? Although naturally occurring vibrations have proven extremely useful to seismologists, until now the vibrations ...

Research team develops aerosol optical tweezers

Oct 29, 2014

A device which allows users to hold airborne particles – aerosols – for extended periods has been developed by a team at the University of Bristol and Portishead-based firm Biral.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FredB
3 / 5 (2) May 12, 2009
Stupid useless article. Whoever wrote it gave the most thin background imaginable- the part everyone knew anyway, and made no comment on what exactly was discovered that made the clocks more accurate. The article might as well have stopped after the headline. This article truly told us nothing.
smiffy
not rated yet May 12, 2009
I'm still trying to work out how they know that one atomic clock is better than another?
When comparing two state-of-the-art clocks who's to say which of the two is the most accurate? Because theory says so? Or are they calibrated against some astronomical standard?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.