Home LATEST NEWS The world’s most accurate clock could transform fundamental physics

The world’s most accurate clock could transform fundamental physics


According to Jun Ye, of the University of Boulder in Colorado, this is from afar of the most accurate clock ever developed. And it could pave the way for new discoveries in quantum mechanics, which governs the subatomic world.

The researcher and his colleagues published their results on Wednesday in the prestigious journal Naturedescribing the technical progress that enabled them to create an object 50 times more precise than their previous clock, which in 2010 already broke the precision record.

Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, according to which the gravitational field of a very large object distorts space-time, dates from 1915. According to this theory, time slows down when one approaches a significant mass.

However, it could not be verified until much later thanks to the invention of atomic clocks, which measure time by detecting the transition of atoms to a higher energy state when exposed to a particular frequency.

In 1976, an experiment involved sending a clock into space, which was shown to be one second faster every 73 years than its equivalent on Earth.

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Since then, clocks have become more and more precise, and therefore better at detecting the effects of relativity.

A decade ago, Jun Ye’s team broke a record by observing a time difference when their clock was moved 33 centimeters up.

Predict volcanic eruptions

The breakthrough made by Jun Ye was to work with clocks with optical network using lasers to trap atoms in specific ways. This technique helps prevent them from falling due to gravity or moving, which would result in a loss of accuracy.

Inside the new clock are 100,000 strontium atoms, immobilized in several layers, measuring a total of one millimeter high.

The clock is so precise that when this stack was split in half, scientists were able to detect time differences between the top and bottom halves. At this level of sensitivity, clocks act as probes.

Time and space are connected. And with such precise time measurement, you can see how space is changing in real time – the Earth is a living, dynamic body. »

A quote from Jun Ye, from the University of Boulder, Colorado

Such clocks could for example make it possible, in volcanic regions, to differentiate solid rock from lava under the surface and thus help to predict eruptions.

Or to study how global warming is melting glaciers and raising sea levels.

Towards a theory of everything

But what excites Jun Ye the most is the role these clocks could play in physics.

The current clock can detect a time difference over 200 micrometers – but by bringing that number down to 20, it could explore the quantum world and help fill in some theoretical gaps.

If relativity beautifully explains how large objects like planets or galaxies behave, it is incompatible with quantum mechanics, which deals with the very small.

The intersection of the two fields could make it possible to take another step towards a theory of everything capable of explaining all the physical phenomena of the cosmos.

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