Breakthrough Prize for losing one second in 15 billion years

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Working independently and using tabletop-scale techniques, two scientists, Hidetoshi Katori and Jun Ye built ultra high precision ‘optical lattice clocks’ which improved the precision of time measurement by three orders of magnitude and earned them the 2022 Breakthrough Prize for fundamental physics.

If operated, these super accurate quantum clocks would lose just about one second in 15 billion years. They were built “using lasers to trap, cool and probe atoms,” stated a release on the awards.

These clocks operate at optical frequencies which are higher and more accurate than microwave frequencies which are the basis of the current atomic clocks.

Apart from quantum computing, these clocks have widespread technological applications. “In fundamental research they can be used to check theories like relativity, as well as to hunt for gravitational waves and new physics such as dark matter,” stated the release.

The optical lattice clocks can also be used to improve the accuracy of GPS, potentially offering spatial resolution accurate down to the last centimetre.

A Professor at the University of Tokyo, Hidetoshi Katori is the Chief Scientist at the Quantum Metrology Laboratory in the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research. Winner of the Micius Quantum Prize 2020 too, Dr Katori is also the team leader of the Space-Time Engineering Research Team in the RIKEN Center for Advanced Photonics.

Dr Jun Ye works with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). For close to two decades, he has also been a physicist at JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Both Dr Katori and Dr Ye will receive $1.5 million each, half of the $3 million physics prize.

Last week, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation announced the winners of the 10th annual Breakthrough Prizes, distributing a total of $15.75 million among scientists.

The founding sponsors of these awards include Silicon Valley titans such as Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki.

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