NIST Demos Experimental Atomic Clock

Jeff Brody

The National Institute of Standards and Technology tested a miniature atomic clock designed to tick at optical frequencies. The experimental clock consists of rubidium atoms placed in a vapor cell and two frequency combs that function to link the ticks to low microwave frequencies, NIST said Friday.

The device operates at 275 milliwatts and is built to work at a handheld form factor. According to NIST, it can also potentially succeed traditional oscillators and assist in telecommunications and navigation applications.

“Ultimately, we expect this work to lead to small, low-power clocks that are exceptionally stable and will bring a new generation of accurate timing to portable, battery-operated devices," said John Kitching, a fellow at NIST.

The clock was developed in partnership with Stanford University, Charles Stark Draper Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology. NIST plans to decrease the device's size and integrate low-noise laser technologies in future updates.

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