Atomic clocks look set to become more precise
Clocks using a neglected atom may become the best timekeepers
A neglected rare-earth element is being used in a bid to create the most precise clocks ever built. Physicists at the National University of Singapore have discovered that lutetium (Lu) can be highly effective within optical clocks since it is relatively insensitive to changes in environmental temperature, meaning optical clocks would be able to run for longer.
Currently, global time and the control of GPS navigation is largely carried out using cesium atomic clocks, thanks to a decision by the International Committee for Weights and Measures in 1967 to define a second as the amount of time it takes for a cesium atom to absorb enough microwave energy to be excited.
Optical clocks have since emerged as being 100-times more precise, using higher frequencies of visible light rather than microwaves to excite atoms. But while the atoms used are aluminium or ytterbium, luterium has been found to be more reliable in such kinds of atomic clocks. There's a chance it could detect dark matter and dark energy too.
"We have definitively shown that Lu is the least sensitive to temperature of all established atomic clocks," says first author
Kyle Arnold. “That will not only help to make a lab-based clock more accurate, but also make clocks that come out of the labs more practical, allowing them to operate in a wider range of environments.”
Atomic clocks are still most widely used, but optical clock accuracy has been boosted experiments with lutetium