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JILA's 3-D quantum gas atomic clock

JILA's 3-D quantum gas atomic clock


JILA's 3-D quantum gas atomic clock consists of a grid of light formed by three pairs of laser beams. A stack of two tables is used to configure optical components around a vacuum chamber. Shown here is the upper table, where lenses and other optics are mounted. A blue laser beam excites a cube-shaped cloud of strontium atoms located behind the round window in the middle of the table. Strontium atoms fluorescence strongly when excited with blue light.

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JILA physicists have created an entirely new design for an atomic clock, in which strontium atoms are packed into a tiny 3-D cube at 1,000 times the density of previous 1-D clocks. In doing so, they are the first to harness the ultra-controlled behavior of a so-called "quantum gas" to make a practical measurement device.

With so many atoms completely immobilized in place, JILA's cubic quantum gas clock sets a record for a value called "quality factor" and the resulting measurement precision. A large quality factor translates into a high level of synchronization between the atoms and the lasers used to probe them, and makes the clock's "ticks" pure and stable for an unusually long time, thus achieving higher precision.

Until now, each of the thousands of "ticking" atoms in advanced clocks behave and are measured largely independently. In contrast, the new cubic quantum gas clock uses a globally interacting collection of atoms to constrain collisions and improve measurements. The new approach promises to usher in an era of dramatically improved measurements and technologies across many areas based on controlled quantum systems. With so many atoms completely immobilized in place, JILA's cubic quantum gas clock sets a record for a value called "quality factor" and the resulting measurement precision. A large quality factor translates into a high level of synchronization between the atoms and the lasers used to probe them, and makes the clock's "ticks" pure and stable for an unusually long time, thus achieving higher precision.

Until now, each of the thousands of "ticking" atoms in advanced clocks behave and are measured largely independently. In contrast, the new cubic quantum gas clock uses a globally interacting collection of atoms to constrain collisions and improve measurements. The new approach promises to usher in an era of dramatically improved measurements and technologies across many areas based on controlled quantum systems.

The National Science Foundation supported this research through the Physics Frontier Center at JILA (grant PHY 17-34006).

Learn more about this research in the JILA news story JILA's 3-D quantum gas atomic clock offers new dimensions in measurement. (Date image taken: September 2017; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: April 13, 2018)

Credit: G.E. Marti/Ye Labs/JILA

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