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NIST’s Quantum Logic Clock Returns to Top Performance

The following is a cross-post by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The quantum logic clock—perhaps best known for showing you age faster if you stand on a stool—has climbed back to the leading performance echelons of the world’s experimental atomic clocks. 

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been quietly upgrading their quantum logic clock design for the past eight years, mainly to reduce errors from unwanted motion of the single aluminum ion (electrically charged atom) that provides the clock “ticks.” 

As described in Physical Review Letters, the quantum logic clock’s systematic uncertainty (how closely the clock represents the ion’s natural vibrations, or frequency) is 9.4×10−19, the best of any clock worldwide. This means the logic clock would now neither gain nor lose one second in 33 billion years, which is about two-and-a-half times the estimated age of the universe.  

In this metric, it now outpaces both NIST clocks using neutral atoms trapped in lattices of laser beams, the ytterbium lattice clock and the strontium lattice clock.  

“The logic clock’s performance is not surprising to me,” project leader David Leibrandt said. “Ion clocks are naturally better isolated from the environment—which is the source of inaccuracy for atomic clocks—than lattice clocks are. It’s important to distinguish between precision and stability on this point. People expect that lattice clocks should perform the best in stability, and they currently do. Our newest quantum logic clock is the world leader in precision but not stability.” 

Read more at https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2019/07/nists-quantum-logic-clock-returns-top-performance