Atomic Clocks Upgraded with New Small-scale Version

A new optical atomic clock with a central chamber only a few millimeters wide is an important new development in the timepiece category. Atomic clocks are far more accurate than ordinary clocks. These developments could lead to several improvements in telecommunications.


Building the Small-scale Clock

Atomic clocks track the time by counting the number of oscillations of light that are absorbed by atoms of cesium. This is in the range of billions of oscillations every second, and because of this, these clocks are far more reliable and accurate in keeping the time compared with other clocks.

In the past, atomic clocks have been relatively large in size. The central chamber of the clock, which houses the atoms, is usually about a meter wide. The new miniature battery-operated atomic clock is an optical clock. It makes use of light that has been tuned to the atoms of rubidium. In terms of accuracy, it is far more accurate than ordinary atomic clocks with trillions of beats or undulations per second. More details about the new creation are available in May’s edition of Optica. The research report was co-authored by Zachary Newman and Matthew Hummon, who are both physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado.

The new clock has a way to regulate itself. The laser oscillations are kept in rhythm at 385.285 terahertz. The rubidium atoms in the tiny chamber absorb half of the laser beam at this exact frequency. If the light is not being absorbed at any moment, this means that the frequency needs to be adjusted slightly.

The new miniature optical clock has an inner atom chamber that is only 3 millimeters across. This is situated on a silicon chip. The size has been hailed by experts in the field. This new breed of tiny optical clocks could potentially improve data flow in telecommunications and astronomy.

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