AMO Breakthroughs Keep Atomic Clocks Accurate for More Than 60 Million Years

By: | February 3rd, 2015

Cesium Fountain Atomic Clocks

Cesium Fountain Atomic Clocks (NIST Physicists Steve Jefferts and Tom Heavner Image Courtesy

Controlling The Quantum World

A recent breakthrough in the Cesium Fountain Atomic Clock in Boulder, Colorado improved the clock’s accuracy from about 1 x 10 -15  to 5 x 10 -16 seconds meaning it would not gain or lose more than one second of time in more than 60 million years. Modern societies are becoming increasingly dependent on similar technological breakthroughs in the atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) sciences to lay the foundation for new technologies.

We observe the broad arc of history advance as technologies improve, for example, from navigation using stars to navigation by clocks to today’s navigation with atomic clocks. In medicine, laser surgery is now replacing scalpels and knives that were used for centuries. In the area of military defense global positioning systems, laser-guided weapons, encrypted communication and the detection of toxins in the air all occur by sensors, of which breakthroughs in AMO are the basis. Finally, in this age of globalization, the streamlining of the global economy to make it more efficient and productive depends on a framework made of high-speed communication over optical fibers.

The world is poised to continue the rapid pace of research and understanding of the fundamental forces of nature over the next few decades that could lead to meeting all of the world’s energy needs without depleting the earth’s resources and destroying ecosystems as has been the case to date.

Some of the areas currently of great promise are better solar energy collection and conversion, laser fusion, molecular biophysics, a significant improvement in dealing with health threats and more.

Scientists are beginning to find new ways to detect biomolecules using advanced lasers and to better measure and understand their structure and chemistry. Another area of promise is reproducing plasma conditions of a fusion bomb, but peacefully through the use of a tiny but powerfully focused laser.

A Current Survey of AMO

Here are some of the key areas of AMO science research currently underway:

  • Developing new methods of measuring space and time using high precision ultrafast lasers and ultracold atoms
  • The creation of new ultracold AMO “coherent quantum gasses” that will permit breakthroughs in our understanding of matter science and plasma physics
  • New high-intensity and short wavelength X-ray free electron lasers for condensed matter physics, materials research, chemistry, medicine and defense science.
  • Quantum engineering on the nanoscale, leading to breakthroughs in molecular and photon science.
  • Quantum information breakthroughs leading to quantum computing and communication that will allow humans to fully realize the maximum potential of information science and exchange.

Following are six recommendations created by the National Academy of Sciences with regard to the fields of AMO called “Controlling the Quantum World“:

  1. In view of the critical importance of the physical sciences to national economic strength, health care, defense, and domestic security, the federal government should embark on a substantially increased investment program to improve education in the physical sciences and mathematics at all levels and to strengthen significantly the research effort.
  2. AMO science will continue to make exceptional contributions to many areas of science and technology. The  federal government should therefore support programs in AMO science across disciplinary boundaries and through a multiplicity of agencies.
  3. Basic research is a vital component of the nation’s defense strategy. The Department of Defense, therefore, should reverse recent declines in support for 6.1 research at its agencies.
  4. The extremely rapid increase in the technical capability of scientific instrumentation and its cost has significantly increased pressures (over and above the usual Consumer Price Index inflationary pressures) on research budgets. The federal government should recognize this fact and plan budgets accordingly.
  5. Given the critical role of theoretical research in AMO science, the funding agencies should reexamine their portfolios in this area to ensure that the effort is at proper strength in workforce and funding levels.
  6. The federal government should implement incentives to encourage more U.S. students, especially women and minorities, to study the physical sciences and take up careers in the field. It should continue to attract foreign students to study physical sciences and strongly encourage them to pursue their scientific careers in the United States.

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David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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