Using quantum entanglement, MIT researchers have created the most accurate atomic clock ever developed. The new atomic clock could shed light on many unknowns in physics.

Atomic clocks are the most precise timepieces we have today, and the best make only 1 second of error in 15 billion years. But as researchers at MIT have shown with a new quantum entangled atomic clock, there is always room for improvement. MIT scientists have devised a new type of atomic clock that could answer questions such as what effect gravity might have on the passage of time and whether time itself changes as the universe ages. This atomic clock was the most accurate atomic clock to date.

Ytterbium used instead of cesium
Atomic clocks today are designed to measure gas made up of thousands of atoms of the same type in order to obtain an estimate of average oscillations. Typical atomic clocks use a laser system to capture ultra-cold atomic gas. Another highly stable laser with a frequency close to that of atoms explores atomic oscillation and tracks time. In the atomic clock developed by MIT, quantum entangled atoms were used instead of free atoms. In this way, a new atomic clock could be made with the potential to achieve better precision within a second than the latest technology optical clocks.

While cesium atoms are usually used in atomic clocks, almost 350 ytterbium atoms are circulating in this new atomic clock. Atoms are emitted at the same very high frequency as visible light. This means that an atom vibrates 100,000 times more than cesium in one second.

The new atomic clock developed by MIT will help answer researchers’ questions on subjects such as dark matter, gravitational waves and whether the laws of physics change over time.


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