Two physicists have recently earned $ 3 million for helping to develop theoroptical grating clockmore accurate than ever, which would allow scientists to study and explore the universe like never before.
Hidetoshi Yatori And Jun Ye they won 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
“for the outstanding contributions to the invention and development of the optical lattice clock, which allows precision tests of the fundamental laws of nature “
the representatives of the Breakthrough Prize announced two days ago (9 September).
Yatori is based at theTokyo Universityand the Japanese research institute Riken, whereas Ye considers his home theUniversity of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology; the duo worked independently and will share the $ 3 million prize.
The research of Yatori and Ye was instrumental in the creation of the optical lattice watch, which according to representatives of the Breakthrough Prize improves the accuracy of timekeeping by a factor of 1,000. it would lose less than 1 second if used for 30 billion years, more than double the age of the universe.
Optical lattice clocks are a evolutionary step beyond the traditional ones atomic clocks, which are based on quantum leaps made by electrons in energized atoms. In fact, “a second” is officially defined such as 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation that gets the electrons in a cesium atom to make a quantum leap.
Atomic clocks initially used microwave radiation to induce those jumps, after which progress came with the replacement of optical light, which has frequencies around 100,000 times that of microwaves.
Those higher frequencies allowed for greater timekeeping accuracy, just as they do in pendulum clocks with faster-swinging pendulums, Breakthrough reps said.
Measuring the higher frequencies was much more difficult, but that problem was more or less solved by the “optical frequency comb“, The technology developed by John Hall and Theodor Hänsch which earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005.
In the realization of the optical grating clock it must be taken into account that Hall was Ye’s Ph.D. advisor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Ye took over his lab mentor when the older man retired.
Optical frequency atomic clocks use strontium instead of cesium and atoms both Yatori and Ye figured out how to tame strontium atomsBy holding them still so that they could be measured, the researchers use an “optical lattice”, a standing wave from a laser beam that creates a sort of egg carton shape whose pits trap atoms.
“It’s almost like a science fiction tractor beam. Put a tractor beam in the middle of the vacuum chamber and you can hold the atoms in the middle of the chamber with the light. “
Ye said (tractor beams are those used in UFO movies, where the spacecraft is able, with a beam, to capture what’s on the ground).