December 12, 2022

Quantum clocks in the real world

Modern atomic quantum clocks are the most precise and accurate scientific instruments ever created. Currently, these so-called optical atomic clocks are mostly found in physics laboratories, often filling an entire laboratory. The AQuRA-consortium brings together European universities, industry partners and EU metrology institutes in an effort to make quantum clocks more robust and compact. This will allow real-world applications like significantly improved and faster telecommunication networks, or underground exploration using fluctuations in gravity. The consortium led by the University of Amsterdam received a €7.5 million European Commission Horizon grant to achieve their goals over the next three and a half years.

Accurately measuring time is important in many settings. Telecom networks and the internet can only work quickly when the sending and receiving of data packages is accurately timed. The GPS system in your phone or car works because GPS satellites contain atomic clocks to time their signals extremely precisely. Even underground exploration – looking for caves or gas supplies, for example – can benefit from gravity measurements using extremely precise clocks.


From the lab to the real world

Such an endeavour requires a collaboration between physicists, industry partners and experts in metrology – the science of measurement. Schreck, from the University of Amsterdam, and his collaborators found eight more partners from six different European countries who now together form AQuRA, short for Advanced Quantum Clock for Real-World Application. Together, the partners will build new clocks, test them in the field, strengthen supply chains for the different components – briefly: make the technologies that now exist in the lab ready for production and applications.

Schreck: “Atoms are the best time-keeping devices that we have. Every atom of a certain type is exactly the same, and as a result, time measurements using light emitted by atoms can be made extremely precise. The funny thing is that to control the smallest things we know of – atoms – we need the biggest machines that one can still build in a university physics lab. Hopefully four years from now, this contrast will be smaller. You won’t be able to buy an optical atomic pocket watch yet, but you may encounter extremely precise quantum clocks the size of a small cupboard out there in the real world.”

More information is available on the AQuRA website

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