National Physical Laboratory

Quantum leaps: NPL research featured in The Economist

Research from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) on quantum technologies is featured in the latest edition of The Economist.

Quantum leaps: NPL research featured in The Economist

Part of the magazine's cover feature on quantum technologies, the article opens with Prof Patrick Gill, co-director of NPL's Quantum Metrology Institute and an expert in optical atomic clocks. Patrick demonstrates NPL's current research efforts to make ever-smaller atomic clocks, suitable for use in a variety of applications that can benefit from advanced timekeeping, such as defence and aerospace.

The article goes on to describe the first caesium atomic clock, developed at NPL by Louis Essen and Jack Parry, and arguably the world's first quantum technology. These clocks work by putting energy into atoms to create a 'superposition' in which they are, in a measurable way, in more than one energy state at the same time - both excited and relaxed. Probing this strange condition reveals the 'clock frequency' of those atoms - a constant for clocks on every continent, and the basis for a precise, internationally-agreed definition of the second.

After decades of work in the laboratory, a raft of different devices and approaches relying on quantum-mechanical effects are now nearing market-readiness. NPL's ever-smaller clocks are just one step towards marketable products that could vastly outdo GPS (which itself is an application of atomic timekeeping) in navigation, or help spot what lies underground.

Read the full article in The Economist

Find out more about NPL's Quantum Metrology Institute

Find out more about NPL's Time & Frequency research

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Last Updated: 13 Mar 2017
Created: 13 Mar 2017

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