The researchers’ experiments with Rydberg atoms have opened up a new way to measure time that does not require a precise starting point. In such atoms, the outer electron is in a highly excited state. As a result, the size of a Rydberg atom can exceed the size of the same atom in the ground state by almost 106 times.

It is irradiated with a laser to switch an atom from its ground state to the excited state. In some applications, a second laser can be used to monitor changes in an electron’s position, including time. Several Rydberg states can form a wave packet. As with real waves, having more than one wave packet oscillating in space creates interference. These unique patterns will reflect the specific time it takes for wave packets to form relative to each other.

In new experiments, physicists have shown that such patterns are consistent and reliable enough to serve as a form of quantum timestamp. “The advantage of this is that you don’t have to start the clock – you just look at the interference structure and say, ‘OK, 4 nanoseconds has passed,'” the scientists said.

Source: Ferra

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