The best clock in the world has no hands, no pendulum, no face or digital display. It is made of ultra-cold Strontium atoms trapped in crystals of light. The clock is so precise that, had it begun ticking when Earth formed billions of years ago, it would not yet have gained or lost a second. These ultraprecise atomic clocks not only can serve as the state-of-the-art timekeepers, but also they could help us unveil the mysteries of the quantum world, which is ruled by the bizarre concept of entanglement or “spooky action at a distance”. In fact, the new generation of atomic clocks are paving the ground for the construction of quantum computers with computational powers beyond that of any imaginable classical machine. A quantum computer should be able solve otherwise intractable problems, with far-reaching applications to cryptology, material design and fundamental physical sciences. Can we make the clock even better? Regardless of their impressive precision and accuracy, current atomic clocks still operate with independent atoms which are fundamentally fuzzy. Interestingly, this fuzziness could be reduced if we entangle them. So atomic clocks are a win-win business, not only the current generation of clocks will help us to better understand the quantum world, but the gained understanding will in turn allow us to build the most incredible quantum rulers of time in the future.
Ana Maria Rey / University of Colorado Boulder
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