Measuring time may not seem like a complicated thing. After all, we’re simply counting down the seconds between “then” and “now.” But when you really start to break down time down to the quantum level, things start to get a lot murkier. For starters, “then” becomes harder to control, and “now” becomes even more fuzzy, making it harder to beat.
This complexity could change sooner rather than later. According to research published in Physical review research In October of 2022, the trick to measuring time in a quantum haze may lie in measuring the shape of the haze itself.
A group of researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden conducted several experiments to test the theory. The main focus was experimenting with what scientists call the Rydberg state. Through experimentation, they were able to find a new, fresh way of measuring time that didn’t require you to have a very precise starting point—one of the biggest mysteries scientists have faced before.
One of the easiest ways to visualize this research is to think of Rydberg atoms as hyperinflated balloons within the particle world. These particles contain electrons in extremely high energy states, all orbiting far from the atom’s nucleus. They used two lasers to interact with the atoms. This technique allowed scientists to measure time by measuring the speed of electrons.
To do this, they kept experimenting, observing the atoms and “fingerprints” they left behind. This allowed the researchers to create quantum timestamps, making it easy to measure time without having to have a specific starting point that already exists in the quantum realm.
Future experiments in the same vein could help refine the way scientists measure this quantum fog as well, providing a more accurate way to measure the passage of time within the quantum realm in smarter ways. Combine that with the fact that MIT scientists reinvented the atomic clock, and science has found new ways to confront the time dilemma.
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