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Researchers Race to Build the World's Smallest Atomic Clock, Again

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Sandia's Darwin Serkland observes a laser diode under a microscope

Sandia's Darwin Serkland observes needle probes under a microscope driving current into a laser diode.

Credit: Craig Fritz

Yuan-Yu Jau is on a quest to build the world's smallest atomic clock. If successful, he and his team at Sandia National Laboratories will have made one smaller than a sugar cube.

But he's not the only one pushing the limits of tiny timepieces.

Last year, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency challenged research teams to build smaller, more accurate clocks. Jau is leading one of two Sandia teams engaged in this effort.

"They want 1 cubic centimeter for everything, and currently there's no atomic clock with this kind of size," says Jau, whose core design is even smaller — about 1 centimeter long and a mere 2 millimeters wide and tall, for a grand total of 0.04 cubic centimeters. DARPA requested the devices to be accurate within one-millionth of a second after one week.

Sandia in the early 2000s helped develop the Chip Scale Atomic Clock, which measured about 17 cubic centimeters. It is still the smallest atomic clock you can buy.

From Sandia National Laboratories
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