(ORDO NEWS) — Few things in the universe keep a rhythm as reliably as the pulse of an atom.
However, even the most advanced “atomic” clocks based on variations of these quantum timers lose count when pushed to the limit.
Physicists have long known that entangling atoms can help bind particles enough to squeeze a little more ticks out of each tick, but most experiments have only been able to demonstrate this on the smallest scale.
A team of researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK have extended this limit to two meters (about six feet), proving that the math is still valid over large spaces.
Not only could this improve the overall accuracy of optical atomic clocks, but it would also allow the time of several clocks to be compared to fractions of a second, to the point where previously undetectable signals in a number of physical phenomena could be revealed.
As the name suggests, optical atomic clocks use light to study the movements of volumes in order to keep track of time.
Like a child on a swing, the components of atoms swing back and forth under a constant set of constraints. All it takes is a reliable push, like a photon from a laser, to set the swing in motion.
Various methods and materials have been tested over the years to advance the technology to the point where differences in their frequencies are barely a per second error over the 13-plus billion years of the universe a level of accuracy that means we may need to rethink the very way to measure time itself.
How nice No matter how this technology is set up, there comes a point when the timing rules themselves become a bit fuzzy due to the uncertainties of the quantum landscape that create a lot of catch-22 situations.
For example, higher frequencies of light can improve accuracy, but this comes at the cost of small uncertainties between the emission of a photon and the reaction of an atom becoming more important.
This in turn can be smoothed out by reading the atom multiple times, a solution not without problems.
One sho Ideal would be reading with the correct type of laser pulse. Physicists know that the uncertainty of this approach can be reduced if the fate of the atom being measured is already tied to another atom.
Entanglement is both an intuitive and strange concept. According to quantum mechanics, objects cannot be said to have a meaning or state until they are observed.
If they are already part of a larger system, perhaps through the exchange of photons with other atoms. – all parts of the system are destined to give a relatively predictable result.
It’s like tossing two coins from the same wallet, knowing that if one comes up heads, the other comes up heads, even as it spins. air.
The two “coins” in this case were a pair of strontium ions entangled in a photon sent down a short optical fiber.
The test itself did not provide a revolutionary level of accuracy in optical atomic clocks, although it was not intended.
Instead, the team showed that by entangling the charged strontium atoms, they could reduce measurement uncertainty under conditions that should allow them to improve accuracy in the future.
Knowing macroscopic distances of a few meters is not difficult, it is now possible to confuse optical atomic clocks around the world in order to improve their accuracy.
“Although our result is largely a proof of principle, and the absolute accuracy we achieve is several orders of magnitude lower, we hope that the methods shown here will someday be able to improve modern systems,” says physicist Raghavendra Srinivas.
“At some point, entanglement will be needed, as it provides a path to the ultimate precision allowed by quantum theory.”
Squeezing a little more confidence out of every tick of an atomic clock may be just what we need to measure the tiny differences in time caused by masses over the smallest of distances, a tool that could lead to quantum theories of gravity.
Even outside of research, using entanglement to reduce uncertainty in quantum measurements has applications in everything from quantum computing to encryption and communications.
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