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New Technology Increases Atomic Clock Accuracy

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology said they used a single beryllium ion to sense the high-frequency vibrations of a single aluminum ion, which could serve as a "tick" to calibrate future atomic clocks.

WASHINGTON — Government scientists said they have been able to use the natural oscillations of two different ions to produce "ticks" that could power future atomic clocks.

Researchers at a National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist) said Friday (July 29) they used a single beryllium ion to sense the high-frequency vibrations of a single aluminium ion. They next used ultraviolet lasers to transfer energy from the vibrations to a share "rocking" motion of the ion pair, detecting the magnitude of the vibrations through the beryllium ion.

The technique solves the problem of how to monitor the properties of the aluminium ion, according to the researchers.

"Our experiments show that we can transfer information back and forth efficiently between different kinds of atoms. Now we are applying this technique to develop accurate optical clocks based on single ions,” Till Rosenband of Nist’s laboratories in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement.

According to a paper published Friday in the journal Science, the tandem technique could be used to investigate the potential of various ions in optical atomic clocks.

Since different atoms respond to different frequencies of light, the technique could also be used to improve control of ions or atoms within a potential future quantum computer, the researchers said.

The Nist research was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Security Agency.

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