Quantum clock

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A quantum clock is a type of atomic clock with laser cooled single ions confined together in an electromagnetic ion trap. Developed in 2010 by National Institute of Standards and Technology physicists, the clock was 37 times more precise than the then-existing international standard.[1] The quantum logic clock is based on an aluminium spectroscopy ion with a logic atom.

Both the aluminium-based quantum clock and the mercury-based optical atomic clock track time by the ion vibration at an optical frequency using a UV laser, that is 100,000 times higher than the microwave frequencies used in NIST-F1 and other similar time standards around the world. Quantum clocks like this are able to be far more precise than microwave standards.


The NIST team are not able to measure clock ticks per second because the definition of a second is based on the NIST-F1 which cannot measure a more precise machine. However the aluminium ion clock's measured frequency to the current standard is 1121015393207857.4(7)Hz.[2] NIST have attributed the clock's accuracy to the fact that it is insensitive to background magnetic and electric fields, and unaffected by temperature.[3]

In March 2008, physicists at NIST described an experimental quantum logic clock based on individual ions of beryllium and aluminium. This clock was compared to NIST's mercury ion clock. These were the most accurate clocks that had been constructed, with neither clock gaining nor losing time at a rate that would exceed a second in over a billion years.[4]

In February 2010, NIST physicists described a second, enhanced version of the quantum logic clock based on individual ions of magnesium and aluminium. Considered the world's most precise clock in 2010 with a fractional frequency inaccuracy of 8.6 × 10−18, it offers more than twice the precision of the original.[5] [6] In terms of standard deviation, the quantum logic clock deviates one second every 3.68 billion (3.68 × 109) years, while the then current international standard NIST-F1 caesium fountain atomic clock uncertainty was about 3.1 × 10−16 expected to neither gain nor lose a second in more than 100 million (100 × 106) years.[7] [8]

Gravitational time dilation in everyday lab scale

In 2010 an experiment placed two aluminium-ion quantum clocks close to each other, but with the second elevated 12 in (30.5 cm) compared to the first, making the gravitational time dilation effect visible in everyday lab scales.[9]

More accurate experimental clocks

The accuracy of quantum clocks has since been superseded by optical lattice clocks based on strontium-87 and ytterbium-171. An experimental optical lattice clock was described in a 2014 Nature paper.[10] In 2015 JILA evaluated the absolute frequency uncertainty of their latest strontium-87 optical lattice clock at 2.1 × 10−18, which corresponds to a measurable gravitational time dilation for an elevation change of 2 cm (0.79 in) on planet Earth that according to JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye is "getting really close to being useful for relativistic geodesy".[11][12][13] At this frequency uncertainty, this JILA optical lattice optical clock is expected to neither gain nor lose a second in more than 15 billion (15 × 109) years.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Ghose, Tia (5 February 2010). "Ultra-Precise Quantum-Logic Clock Puts Old Atomic Clock to Shame". Wired. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  2. ^ "Frequency Ratio of Al+ and Hg+ Single-ion Optical Clocks; Metrology at the 17th Decimal Place" (pdf). sciencemag.org. 28 March 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  3. ^ "Quantum Clock Proves to be as Accurate as World's Most Accurate Clock". azonano.com. 7 March 2008. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  4. ^ Swenson, Gayle (7 June 2010). "Press release: NIST 'Quantum Logic Clock' Rivals Mercury Ion as World's Most Accurate Clock". NIST. 
  5. ^ NIST's Second 'Quantum Logic Clock' Based on Aluminum Ion is Now World's Most Precise Clock, NIST, 4 February 2010
  6. ^ C.W Chou; D. Hume; J.C.J. Koelemeij; D.J. Wineland & T. Rosenband (17 February 2010). "Frequency Comparison of Two High-Accuracy Al+ Optical Clocks" (PDF). NIST. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  7. ^ "NIST's Second 'Quantum Logic Clock' Based on Aluminum Ion is Now World's Most Precise Clock" (Press release). National Institute of Standards and Technology. 4 February 2010. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  8. ^ "NIST-F1 Cesium Fountain Atomic Clock: The Primary Time and Frequency Standard for the United States". NIST. August 26, 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  9. ^ "Einstein’s time dilation apparent when obeying the speed limit" (Press release). Ars Technica. 24 September 2010. Retrieved 2015-04-10. 
  10. ^ Bloom, B. J.; Nicholson, T. L.; Williams, J. R.; Campbell, S. L.; Bishof, M.; Zhang, X.; Zhang, W.; Bromley, S. L.; Ye, J. (22 January 2014). "An optical lattice clock with accuracy and stability at the 10−18 level". Nature. 506 (7486): 71–5. Bibcode:2014Natur.506...71B. PMID 24463513. arXiv:1309.1137Freely accessible. doi:10.1038/nature12941. 
  11. ^ T.L. Nicholson; S.L. Campbell; R.B. Hutson; G.E. Marti; B.J. Bloom; R.L. McNally; W. Zhang; M.D. Barrett; M.S. Safronova; G.F. Strouse; W.L. Tew; J. Ye (21 April 2015). "Systematic evaluation of an atomic clock at 2 × 10−18 total uncertainty". Nature Communications 6, Article number:6896, 21 April 2015. doi:10.1038/ncomms7896. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  12. ^ JILA Scientific Communications (21 April 2015). "About Time". Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  13. ^ Laura Ost (21 April 2015). "Getting Better All the Time: JILA Strontium Atomic Clock Sets New Record". National Institute of Standards and Technology. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  14. ^ James Vincent (22 April 2015). "The most accurate clock ever built only loses one second every 15 billion years". The Verge. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
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