Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ytterbium atomic clocks set record for stability

Date:
August 22, 2013
Source:
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Summary:
A pair of experimental atomic clocks based on ytterbium atoms at the National Institute of Standards and Technology has set a new record for stability. The clocks act like 21st-century pendulums or metronomes that could swing back and forth with perfect timing for a period comparable to the age of the universe.

In NIST's ultra-stable ytterbium lattice atomic clock, ytterbium atoms are generated in an oven (large metal cylinder on the left) and sent to a vacuum chamber in the center of the photo to be manipulated and probed by lasers. Laser light is transported to the clock by five fibers (such as the yellow fiber in the lower center of the photo).
Credit: Burrus/NIST

A pair of experimental atomic clocks based on ytterbium atoms at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has set a new record for stability. The clocks act like 21st-century pendulums or metronomes that could swing back and forth with perfect timing for a period comparable to the age of the universe.

NIST's ultra-stable ytterbium lattice atomic clock. Ytterbium atoms are generated in an oven (large metal cylinder on the left) and sent to a vacuum chamber in the center of the photo to be manipulated and probed by lasers. Laser light is transported to the clock by five fibers (such as the yellow fiber in the lower center of the photo). Credit: Burrus/NIST View hi-resolution image

NIST physicists report in the Aug. 22 issue of Science Express that the ytterbium clocks' tick is more stable than any other atomic clock. Stability can be thought of as how precisely the duration of each tick matches every other tick. The ytterbium clock ticks are stable to within less than two parts in 1 quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros), roughly 10 times better than the previous best published results for other atomic clocks.

This dramatic breakthrough has the potential for significant impacts not only on timekeeping, but also on a broad range of sensors measuring quantities that have tiny effects on the ticking rate of atomic clocks, including gravity, magnetic fields, and temperature. And it is a major step in the evolution of next-generation atomic clocks under development worldwide, including at NIST and at JILA, the joint research institute operated by NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder.

"The stability of the ytterbium lattice clocks opens the door to a number of exciting practical applications of high-performance timekeeping," NIST physicist and co-author Andrew Ludlow says.

Each of NIST's ytterbium clocks relies on about 10,000 rare-earth atoms cooled to 10 microkelvin (10 millionths of a degree above absolute zero) and trapped in an optical lattice -- a series of pancake-shaped wells made of laser light. Another laser that "ticks" 518 trillion times per second provokes a transition between two energy levels in the atoms. The large number of atoms is key to the clocks' high stability.

The ticks of any atomic clock must be averaged for some period to provide the best results. One key benefit of the very high stability of the ytterbium clocks is that precise results can be achieved very quickly. For example, the current U.S. civilian time standard, the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, must be averaged for about 400,000 seconds (about five days) to achieve its best performance. The new ytterbium clocks achieve that same result in about one second of averaging time.

Given this high level of stability the ytterbium clocks can make measurements extremely rapidly -- in real time in many cases -- which could be important in rapidly changing application settings, such as the factory floor and the natural environment.

A key advance enabling the milestone performance of the ytterbium clocks was the recent construction of a second version of the clock to measure and improve the performance of the original, developed since 2003. Along the way, NIST scientists have made several improvements to both clocks, including the development of an ultra-low-noise laser used to excite the atoms, and the discovery of a method to cancel disruptive effects caused by collisions between atoms.

The ytterbium clocks' stability record is different from the performance levels previously publicized for NIST-F1, which is traceable to the international system of units, and NIST experimental optical clocks based on single ions, such as the aluminum quantum logic clock or the mercury ion clock. NIST-F1 and the ion clocks were evaluated based on systematic uncertainty, another important metric for standard atomic clocks. NIST-F1's performance is described in terms of accuracy, which refers to how closely the clock realizes the cesium atom's known frequency, or natural vibration rate. Accuracy is crucial for time measurements that must be traced to a primary standard.

NIST scientists plan to measure the accuracy of the ytterbium clocks in the near future, and the accuracy of other high performance optical atomic clocks is under study at NIST and JILA. The research is funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. N. Hinkley, J. A. Sherman, N. B. Phillips, M. Schioppo, N. D. Lemke, K. Beloy, M. Pizzocaro, C. W. Oates, and A. D. Ludlow. An Atomic Clock with 10-18 Instability. Science, 22 August 2013 DOI: 10.1126/science.1240420

Cite This Page:

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "Ytterbium atomic clocks set record for stability." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822142209.htm>.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2013, August 22). Ytterbium atomic clocks set record for stability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822142209.htm
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "Ytterbium atomic clocks set record for stability." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822142209.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lithium Battery 'Holy Grail' Could Provide 4 Times The Power

Lithium Battery 'Holy Grail' Could Provide 4 Times The Power

Newsy (July 28, 2014) Stanford University published its findings for a "pure" lithium ion battery that could have our everyday devices and electric cars running longer. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shipping Crates Get New 'lease' On Life

Shipping Crates Get New 'lease' On Life

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 25, 2014) Shipping containers have been piling up as America imports more than it exports. Some university students in Washington D.C. are set to get a first-hand lesson in recycling. Their housing is being built using refashioned shipping containers. Lily Jamali reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins