Ytterbium Atomic Clocks Set Record for Stability

Posted on August 23, 2013

ytterbium atomic clock at NIST

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says its experimental atomic clocks based on ytterbium atoms have set a new record for stability. NIST says the clocks are more stable than any other clocks. A NIST ytterbium lattice atomic clock is pictured above. Ytterbium atoms are generated in an oven and sent to a vacuum chamber to be manipulated and probed by lasers. Laser light is transported to the clock by five fibers.

The ytterbium clock ticks are stable to within less than two parts in 1 quintillion. NIST says this is roughly 10 times better than the previous best published results for other atomic clocks.

NIST's ytterbium clocks rely on about 10,000 rare-earth atoms cooled to 10 microkelvin and trapped in an optical lattice. This optical lattice is described as "a series of pancake-shaped wells made of laser light." Another laser that "ticks" 518 trillion times per second provokes a transition between two energy levels in the atoms.

NIST physicist and co-author Andrew Ludlow says in a statement, "The stability of the ytterbium lattice clocks opens the door to a number of exciting practical applications of high-performance timekeeping."

Photo: NIST