What Can We Learn About the Universe From World’s Most Precise Clock?

The clock created by Jun Ye from the University of Colorado would need around 15 billion years to miss only one second—about the age of the world itself. For this innovation, together with Hidetoshi Katori from Japan, the Chinese-American researcher will receive 3 million as co-winners of the 2022 Fundamental Physics breakthrough prize.

The two technologies evolved separately by means of lasers to capture and chill atoms, then utilize their movements to power the most accurate timekeeping elements ever constructed, called the optical lattice clocks. According to Ye, “It’s really an instrument to allow you to probe the basic fabric of space-time in the universe.”

The improvement of time fineness and reliability is an objective since the Egyptians and Chinese manufactured sundials. The creation of a 1656 pendulum clock, based on the movement of weight, resulted in a major advance and, some decades later, chronometers were sufficiently precise to calculate the location of a sailed ship.

The quartz clocks emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and resonated at great frequencies or an amount of ticks in one second using electricity. In contemporary devices, quartz clocks are everywhere, although they are still relatively vulnerable to production process changes or temperature levels.

Improved clocks may potentially provide fresh information on the geological activity of the planet. Relativity informs us that it decelerates when it reaches a large body so that a precise timepiece may warn researchers about the distinction between lava and rock under the ground and prevent an explosion. Or actually, monitor ocean levels or the amount of water that runs under a desert.

Ye believes physics concepts can be explained easier to people with the help of a clock: “when they hear about clocks, they can feel it’s a tangible thing, they can make a connection to that, and that’s very rewarding.”

Tonia Nissen
Based out of Detroit, Tonia Nissen has been writing for Optic Flux since 2017 and is presently our Managing Editor. An experienced freelance health writer, Tonia obtained an English BA from the University of Detroit, then spent over 7 years working in various markets as a television reporter, producer and news videographer. Tonia is particularly interested in scientific innovation, climate technology, and the marine environment.