A Clock Directly Linking Time to a Particle's Mass

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Science  10 Jan 2013:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230767

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Historically, time measurements have been based on oscillation frequencies in systems of particles, from the motion of celestial bodies to atomic transitions. Relativity and quantum mechanics show that even a single particle of mass m determines a Compton frequency ω0 = mc2/ ħ, where c is the speed of light and ħ is the reduced Planck constant. A clock referenced to ω0 would enable high-precision mass measurements and a fundamental definition of the second. We demonstrate such a clock using an optical frequency comb to self-reference a Ramsey-Bordé atom interferometer and synchronize an oscillator at a subharmonic of ω0. This directly demonstrates the connection between time and mass. It allows measurement of microscopic masses with 4 × 10−9 accuracy in the proposed revision to SI units. Together with the Avogadro project, it yields calibrated kilograms.

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