Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘timekeeping’

An optical scientist to watch: Jun Ye

I’ve heard of Jun Ye before, mainly through writing and editing articles about optical frequency combs, super-accurate atomic clocks and related topics. Today I got word that Ye, a fellow of NIST and JILA, has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a high honor indeed.

Ye studied for his Ph.D. under John (“Jan”) Hall, one of the Nobel Prize winners I was lucky enough to meet while I worked for OSA – The Optical Society. As folks like Ted Hänsch and Steven Chu can attest, studying under, or working closely with, a Nobel laureate is a great foundation for a scientific career. Keep an eye on Ye for more interesting research.

The optical lattice clock

What’s the difference between an atomic clock and an optical lattice clock?

Actually, several new technologies are in the running to improve high-performance timekeeping. Traditional atomic clocks (if one can consider a technology developed in the 1940s to be “traditional”) rely on atomic transitions in the microwave region of the electronic spectrum. More recently, scientists are studying clocks based on transitions in the optical regime, where frequencies are higher.

Some optical clocks are based on a single supercooled atom, but the optical lattice clock uses a cloud of atoms confined in a regular “lattice,” sort of like a bunch of marbles on a sheet of egg-crate foam. The more atoms, the more accuracy, at least up to a point.

The Japanese physicist who developed the notion of the optical lattice clock a decade ago, and his colleagues at the University of Tokyo, have come up with a way to make such timekeepers more stable. Read about it in my article on the OPN website.