Superconductivity and the Quantization of Energy

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Science  12 Jan 1990:
Vol. 247, Issue 4939, pp. 177-182
DOI: 10.1126/science.247.4939.177


Ideas about quantized energy levels originated in atomic physics, but research in superconductivity has led to unparalleled precision in the measurement of energy levels. A comparison of levels produced by two Josephson junctions shows that they differ by no more than 3 parts in 1019 at an energy of 0.0003 electron volt. The fact that the myriad of interactions of 1012 particles in a macroscopic body, a Josephson junction, can produce sharply defined energy levels suggests a dynamical state effectively divorced from the complexities of its environment. The existence of this state, the macroscopic quantum state of superconductors, is well established, but its isolation from intrinsic perturbations has recently been shown to be extraordinary. These new results, with an improved precision of about ten orders of magnitude, are discussed in the context of highly accurate results from quantum electrodynamics, atomic spectroscopy, and the standards of metrology. Further refinements in precision may be achievable at higher energy levels, about 12 electron volts, as they become available from a new series array of 18,992 Josephson junctions.

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