The World's Most Overlooked Element Could Transform What We Know About Time

Wednesday, 23 May 2018 - 11:02AM
Science News
Wednesday, 23 May 2018 - 11:02AM
The World's Most Overlooked Element Could Transform What We Know About Time
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Image credit: Pixabay/Unsplash/Outer Places

For most people with smartphones or other digital devices, keeping time has become a given. Time zones and daylights savings don't matter because our devices are smart enough to set themselves, and we can use those devices to set the time on normal watches or microwaves that aren't connected to the grid.

 

But where is this master clock that is running our lives, and is it as precise as it can be?

 

According to Live Science, researchers believe that while the world's most accurate clocks are pretty good, a rare element on the periodic table could make them even better.


In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore argue for the element lutetium as a possible substitute for making atomic clocks that are more sensitive to "environmental perturbations."

 

Optical clocks exist that are 100 times more accurate than atomic clocks that use the chemical element caesium, but as study author Murray Barrett points out, they are also not perfect.

 

Changes in room temperature can affect the electromagnetic field around the aluminum and ytterbium atoms in optical clocks, which could throw off the time measurement.

 

So the tradeoff becomes not just about precision but also about reliability, which is why Barrett and his team believe lutetium ion clocks are the key.



For the average person trying to catch a bus on time or waiting for an episode of The Big Bang Theory to start, none of this really matters because clocks used to keep global time are only off by a second roughly every 300 million years, but the researchers believe that making clocks even better could be crucial in the future.

 

"Certainly, when we first started developing clocks for the purpose of ship navigation, we never imagined the idea of somebody being able to walk around and know exactly where they are in a big city," Barrett said.

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