The use of highly charged ions might result in more accurate clocks since the atoms will be more immune from interference from nearby electric or magnetic fields. But aren't atomic clocks already good? They are. In January 2014, physicists at NIST-Boulder announced the creation of an atomic clock that sets records for accuracy and stability, at the 6 parts-per-10^-18 level. This clock uses strontium atoms, and the observed transition is reported to an astounding degree of explicitness. The energy corresponds to a wave with a frequency of 429,228,004,229, 870.0(1.1) Hz.
If, however, we could go just a bit further, to the level of 10^-19, then important physics tests might be possible, including the chance to determine whether the fine structure constant (denoted by the Greek letter alpha), is changing in time or space. Astronomical data has been interpreted by some to suggest that alpha is changing at a small level. At the finer level of precision offered by highly charged ions, terrestrial tests of alpha's constancy could be carried out.
Other potential uses for atomic clocks emerge in areas where high precision is critical: geodesy, hydrology, navigation, and even the deep tracking of spacecraft. Safronova singles out the potential for quantum computing: "The highly charge ions we recommend," she said, "present a completely unexplored resource for quantum information owing to their unique atomic properties and their potential for reducing the sensitivity to troubling
|Contact: Phillip F. Schewe|
Joint Quantum Institute