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A New Method for Measuring Time Has Recently Been Discovered by Scientists

By: April Carson

Keeping track of time is easy when you have clocks and watches to help you measure the passage of seconds from one moment to the next.

Quantum mechanics tells us that on the extremely small scale of buzzing electrons, 'then' can't always be predicted. Furthermore, 'now' often smudges into a blur of uncertainty. A stopwatch wouldn't suffice for some scenarios.

According to researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden, the quantum fog's shape itself may hold the answer. By studying how these fluctuations change over time, the team was able to 'see' into the past and future.

Their experiments on the wave-like nature of something called a Rydberg state have revealed a novel way to measure time that doesn't require starting at an exact point in time.

Rydberg atoms are unique because they have electrons in high energy states that orbit further from the nucleus. These atoms are inflated with lasers, similar to how a balloon is inflated with air.

In reality, lasers are frequently used to nudge electrons into higher energy states for various applications, not just pumping them up to cartoonish proportions.

A second laser can be used to monitor the changes in an electron's position over time, including how long it takes for these changes to occur. This 'pump-probe' technique can be used measure the speed of ultrafast electronics, among other things.

This new method for measuring time is more precise than the current international standard, which is based on the vibration of atoms in a cesium-based atomic clock.

When atoms are induced into Rydberg states, it becomes a convenient tool for engineers - especially when designing new components for quantum computers. Obviously, physicists have gathered a lot of data regarding how electrons move in relation to being nudged into a Rydberg state.

Like all animals, humans are born with a quantum state, but instead of behaving like beads on an abacus which slide slowly and methodically around, human movement is more erratic-- think of it as choosing numbers at random during a game of roulette.

The Rydberg wave packet provides the mathematical rule book for this wild game of Rydberg electron roulette.

Believe it or not, the motions of atomic particles can be described using wave packets. Just like actual waves in a pond, having more than one Rydberg wave packet rippling about in a space creates interference, resulting in unique patterns of ripples. Throw enough Rydberg wave packets into the same atomic pond, and those unique patterns will each represent the distinct time it takes for the wave packets to evolve in accordance with one another.

The physicists running these latest tests were focused on studying how 'fingerprints' of time are constant and reliable enough to be used as a form of quantum timestamping.

They conducted research by measuring the effects of laser-excited helium atoms. Then, they compared their findings to existing predictions to show how these results could be used as an estimate for time measurements.

Their findings, suggest that this method of time-keeping could be useful for studying the behavior of quantum systems over long periods of time.

According to physicist Marta Berholts from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, who led the team--if you're utilizing a counter, zero has to be defined. You starts counting at some specific point.

"An advantage to this approach is that you don't have to restart the clock – you can simply observe the interference pattern and determine how much time has passed."

A guide book of evolving Rydberg wave packets could be used in combination with other forms of pump-probe spectroscopy to measure events on an infinitesimal scale that are difficult or impossible to observe otherwise.

"We envision that this method will enable new types of pump-probe measurements in which the probe is a single photon or even just a few photons," Berholts said. "This could be useful, for example, in attosecond science where you want to study very fast processes."

What's critical to understand is that none of the fingerprints needed a set starting and stopping point in time, otherwise it would be like trying measure an unknown sprinter's race against competitors running at different, predetermined speeds.

Although 1.7 trillionth of a second may seem unfathomably brief, by looking for the signature of interfering Rydberg states among pump-probe atoms, technicians are able to timestamp events occurring within this timeframe.

Different atoms or laser pulse energies could be used in future quantum watch experiments to create a more comprehensive guidebook of timestamps.

This would allow for the development of a "time standard" that could serve as an international reference point, just like GPS coordinates or the atomic clock.

The findings of this study were published in the Physical Review Research.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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