Precision Measurements with Laser-Cooled Cadmium: Optical-Lattice Clock and Cold Collision Experiments

Project: Research project

Project Details


General audience abstract:

The project will develop experimental techniques for optical-frequency atomic clocks based on Cadmium, an attractive candidate for the next generation of primary atomic clocks and an anticipated redefinition of international atomic time. Atomic clocks realize the most accurate measurements of any type. The small tick-rate differences and the short time intervals that atomic clocks routinely measure have wide-ranging applications, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), secure financial transactions, and official U.S. and international time. Scientific applications of atomic clocks include tests of general relativity and fundamental physics, geodesy, long baseline interferometry, and metrology. Atomic clocks address questions such as whether fundamental constants, for example the ratio of the mass of an electron and the mass of a proton, change in time. Just after the big bang, were fundamental constants different than they are now? The attractiveness of Cadmium atoms for highly accurate clocks and other precision measurements stems from an insensitivity of a suitable excitation of the atoms to thermal radiation from room-temperature surroundings, a limitation for many atomic clocks. Additionally, a practical aspect is that the lasers needed to make a Cadmium clock are expected to be more reliable than for other clock species with small thermal sensitivities. Cadmium also has a long series of eight isotopes, which have significantly different atom-atom collisions at the low temperatures used in clocks, within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero. The Cadmium isotopes include multiple bosons and fermions, which have different behaviors at ultra-cold temperatures. At such temperatures, the quantum-mechanical nature of atomic gases becomes evident and the basic science of these gases is of broad interest in modern physics research. The project will also provide training of graduate students in many areas of modern technology, including lasers, non-linear optics, the generation of coherent ultraviolet light, radio-frequency and microwave techniques, ultra-high vacuum, and atomic clocks and frequency control.

Technical audience abstract:

Specific goals for this research program include studying the ultracold scattering properties of the cadmium isotopes and investigating the frequency shifts due to the optical lattice light in a variety of lattice configurations. The lattice light frequency shifts depend non-linearly on the intensity due to magnetic dipole and electric quadrupole transitions, and the small hyperpolarizability of cadmium from two-photon transitions. Different lattice configurations can reduce tunneling between lattice sites at low lattice intensities, leading to smaller Doppler and lattice light shifts. The different configurations allow the light shifts to be studied to subsequently improve the accuracy of clocks. Another important component of the project is collaborations with atomic clock groups around the world, for example, to evaluate the accuracies of primary atomic clocks that contribute to International Atomic Time (TAI).

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/208/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $592,185.00


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