Proposed 'nuclear' clock most accurate?

March 8, 2012 at 3:26 PM
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SYDNEY, March 8 (UPI) -- A clock tied to the orbiting of an atom's neutron could gain or lose less than a second in 14 billion years, the age of the universe, Australian scientists say.

"This is nearly 100 times more accurate than the best atomic clocks we have now," said one of the researchers proposing such a "nuclear" clock, said Victor Flambaum of the physics department at the University of New South Wales. "It would allow scientists to test fundamental physical theories at unprecedented levels of precision and provide an unmatched tool for applied physics research."

In a paper to be published in the journal Physical Review Letters, Flambaum along with Australian and U.S. colleagues report their proposed single-ion clock would be accurate to 19 decimal places.

Current atomic clocks, which use orbiting electrons of an atom as the clock "pendulum," are widely used in applications including GPS navigation systems and high-bandwidth data transfer.

"With these clocks currently pushing up against significant accuracy limitations, a next-generation system is desired to explore the realms of extreme measurement precision and further diversified applications unreachable by atomic clocks," Flambaum said.

Because the neutron is held so tightly to the nucleus, he said, its oscillation rate is almost completely unaffected by any external disturbances, unlike those of an atomic clock's electrons, which are much more loosely bound.

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