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Atomic Clocks

4. Frequency Shifts, Relativity, and the Future of Atomic Clocks

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In this mini-lecture, we discuss further effects on atomic clocks and the future of atomic clocks. As we move through this mini-lecture, we consider: (i) frequency shift corrections, including those caused by ambient electric and magnetic fields, thermal radiation, and the relativistic effects of time dilation due to motion and due to the gravitational-potential redshift; (ii) the very small impact gravitational-potential redshift has on small, human scales; (iii) a demonstration of relativistic time dilation due to gravitational-potential redshift, where we see a tiny change in atomic clock frequency due to a 33 cm increase in elevation of the clock; (iv) atomic clocks today; (v) the future of atomic clocks, including uses in navigation and aid in our understating of fundamental science; and (vi) the current NIST IONS research group.


In this course, Professor David Wineland (University of Oregon) discusses atomic clocks. In the first mini-lecutre, we compare traditional and modern methods of navigation, where we see that precision in a clock’s ‘tick rate’ is essential for modern satellites and GPS. In the second mini-lecture, we discuss how a basic, mechanical clock (such as a pendulum clock) works, compare these clocks with atomic clocks, explain how to make an atomic clock with lasers/masers, and discuss why atomic clocks are so accurate and reliable. In the third mini-lecture, we introduce the concept of holding, or trapping, a single atom (or ion) and how this can be used to detect atomic transitions between the energy levels of the atom. The fourth mini-lecture discuses further effects on atomic clocks, notably gravitational-potential redshifts, and notes future uses of atomic clocks.


Professor David Wineland is the Philip H. Knight Distinguished Research Chair and Research Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Oregon and was jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics for devising methods to study the quantum mechanical behaviour of individual ions. In 1975, he joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, where he started the ion storage group and was a professor adjoint at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Professor Wineland and his group at NIST were able to place an individual electrically trapped laser-cooled ion in a superposition of two different locations. This permitted them to experimentally study fundamental physics, such as quantum mechanical behavior. This work led Professor Wineland and his group to make advances in quantum computing and atomic clocks.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Wineland, D. (2022, January 12). Atomic Clocks - Frequency Shifts, Relativity, and the Future of Atomic Clocks [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Wineland, D. "Atomic Clocks – Frequency Shifts, Relativity, and the Future of Atomic Clocks." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 13 Jan 2022,

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