Nothing keeps time like the beating heart of an atom. But even the crisp tick-tock of a vibrating nucleus is limited by uncertainties imposed by the laws of quantum mechanics.
Now, we have a proof of concept in the form of an experiment. Physicists connected together a cloud of ytterbium-171 atoms with streams of photons reflected from a surrounding hall of mirrors and measured the timing of their tiny wiggles.
Their results show that entangling atoms in this way could speed up the time-measuring process of atomic nuclei clocks, making them more precise than ever. In principle, a clock based on this new approach would lose just 100 milliseconds since the dawn of time itself.
In this case, the team found entanglement made the measurement process roughly three times faster compared with clocks acting at the SQL.
That might not seem all that dramatic, but a speed boost could be just the thing we need to study some of the more subtle influences the Universe has on time.
“As the Universe ages, does the speed of light change? Does the charge of the electron change?” says lead researcher Vladan Vuletic from MIT.
“That’s what you can probe with more precise atomic clocks.”
It could even allow us to find the point at which general relativity falls apart, pointing to new physics that connects the defined curvature of space-time with the uncertain nature of quantum fields. Or allow us to better measure the fine time-warping characteristics of dark matter.