This Small Black Strip Is a Clock Accurate to 270 Quintillionths of a Second

By Jamie Condliffe on at

If you want to time something accurately, you could do worse than this new optical clock. Because it can measure intervals of time with a precision of 270 quintillionths of a second (that’s 0.00000000000000027 seconds).

Optical clocks work by measuring the frequency changes in light that result from shifting energy states of electrons in molecules. Usually, they’re rather big clunky devices, about the size of a desktop computer, because they make use of large, reliable lasers. But a team from UCLA has been able to shrink down the hardware using silicon chip technology by using solid-state microresonators. That’s allowed them to create a device that measures just 0.06 cubic inches. The research is published in Science Advances.

It’s not as precise as larger optical clocks, but it it’s still pretty impressive. And perhaps most important is that it’s small. The team suggests that it could be used to measure the timescales of laser pulses with high degrees of accuracy, enabling it to provide more precise laser distance ranging. Given it’s so small, that means it could be used aboard mobile LIDAR systems such as those found in autonomous cars or surveying drones.

It’s worth noting that this clock isn’t the kind that can run for long periods and never lose time—rather, it’s very good at measuring intervals of time. If you never want to lose a second, you’ll currently need an atomic clock, which can run for 100 million years and only gain or lose about a second.

[Science Avances via PhysOrg]