Nothing lasts like the beating heart of the atom. But even the crisp tick-talk of a vibrational nucleus is limited by the uncertainties imposed by the laws of quantum mechanics.
Several years ago, researchers at MIT and Belgrade University in Serbia proposed that quantum entanglement could push clocks beyond this blurred range.
Now, we have the proof of concept as an experiment. Physicists linked together a cloud of ytterbium-171 atoms, which measured the time of their small vignettes, along with the currents of photons reflected from the hall surrounding the mirror.
Their results suggest that entangling in atoms in this way can speed up the time-measuring process of atomic nuclei clocks, making them more accurate than before. In theory, a clock based on this new approach would lose just 100 milliseconds since the dawn of time.
Similar to other state-of-the-art clocks based on the nuclei of cesium and thorium atoms, time in such a setup is divided by oscillations in a ytterbium nucleus after absorbing a specific energy of light.
Since the core of ytterbium can be formed to form a dome 100,000 times faster than the nucleus of a cesium atom, this makes for a more accurate time-keeping mechanism.
But there comes a point when quantum physics says that it is absolutely impossible to tell where atom oscillations start and stop. This standard quantum boundary (SQL) acts like a smear on the atomic pendulum; You can have a fast ticking clock, but what good is it if you can’t even measure it?
Without a way to overcome this hurdle, it doesn’t really matter if we swap a set of atomic nuclei for more precise types – their quantum messiness sets a tighter limit on the accuracy of atomic clocks.
One trick is to record the frequencies of several atoms simultaneously within a lattice consisting of a pendulum of several small atoms. Current atomic clock technologies use lasers to stabilize them as much as possible, providing each atom with a uniform frequency of light. By mixing their collective stigma, personal uncertainty tends to be average.
This new method goes one step further in this averaging process. By piecing together atoms in a way that confounds the quantum possibilities of their sprains, it is possible to redistribute uncertainty in the system, increasing precision in some parts at the expense of others.
MIT physicist Chi Shu says, “It is as if light acts as a communication link between atoms.”
“The first atom that sees this light will modify the light slightly, and this light also modifies the second atom and the third atom, and through many cycles, the atoms collectively know each other and behave similarly. Lets start.”
No matter which method is used, the more you listen, the more accurate the final result will be. In this case, the team found that entanglement made the measurement process nearly three times faster than the clocks acting in SQL.
All of this may not sound dramatic, but a motion boosting thing may just be the thing we need to study in order to have some more subtle effects on the universe.
“As the universe ages, does the speed of light change? Does the charge of the electron change?” MIT’s principal researcher says Vladan Vuletic.
“That’s what you can check with more precise atomic clocks.”
It can also allow us to find the point at which general relativity diverges, pointing to new physics that combines the defined curvature of space-time with the uncertain nature of quantum fields. Or allow us to better measure finely time-wise characteristics of dark matter.
Standing on the edge of a new era in physics and astronomy, we really need time from our side.
This research was published in Nature.