Building A Better Clock With Quantum Physics : Short Wave : NPR

Conceptual artwork of quantum entanglement, one of the consequences of quantum theory. Two particles will appear to be linked across space and time, with changes to one of the particles (such as an observation or measurement) affecting the other one.

Mark Garlick/Getty Images/Science Photo Libra


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Mark Garlick/Getty Images/Science Photo Libra

Conceptual artwork of quantum entanglement, one of the consequences of quantum theory. Two particles will appear to be linked across space and time, with changes to one of the particles (such as an observation or measurement) affecting the other one.

Mark Garlick/Getty Images/Science Photo Libra

Imagine building a better clock — with entangled atoms. Sound difficult? Not for Monika Schleier-Smith, associate professor of physics at Stanford University and 2020 MacArthur Fellow.

Schleier-Smith studies quantum mechanics, the theory that explains the nature of really small things: atoms, photons, and individual particles (e.g. electrons). Quantum mechanics is responsible for innovations in computers, telecommunications, and medicine. And those innovations often start in a lab.

Today on Short Wave, Schleier-Smith takes us into her laboratory — of lasers and mirrors — to break down what’s at work. We discuss her 2010 paper in the journal Physical Review Letters, in which she and her colleagues demonstrated the first atomic clock that harnessed the properties of quantum entanglement for greater precision.

Currently, the Schleier-Smith lab is venturing deeper into the quantum realm. They’re engineering systems to control interactions between particles that are long-ranged or non-local, which has implications for enabling new computational paradigms and building table-top simulations of quantum gravity.

To see all of this year’s MacArthur Fellows, click here.

This episode was produced by Brit Hanson, fact-checked by Ariela Zebede, and edited by Viet Le.

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