A quantum mechanics phenomenon called superposition can significantly impact timekeeping in high-spec precision clocks, a study from the Dartmouth College, Saint Anselm College, and Santa Clara University says.
Researchers analyzing the effect say that superposition – The capacity of an atom to exist in more than a single state simultaneously results in a correction in atomic clocks called quantum time dilation.
The study was published on October 23, 2020, in the journal Nature Communications. It considers quantum effects beyond those speculated by Alber Einstein’s theory of relativity to make an updated prediction about the nature of time.
Alexander Smith, an assistant professor of physics from Saint Anselm College and adjunct associate professor at Dartmouth College, said:
“Whenever we have developed better clocks, we’ve learned something new about the world.”
“Quantum time dilation is a consequence of both quantum mechanics and Einstein’s relativity, and thus offers a new possibility to test fundamental physics at their intersection,” he added.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Albert Einstein introduced a revolutionary concept of space and time by proving that the time experienced by a clock heavily depends on how fast it is moving. If the speed of a clock increases, the rate at which it ticks slows down. That is a significant difference between Sir Isaac Newton’s absolute notion of time that used to be the norm until then.
The researchers’ team combined modern technology and a theory developed four decades ago that explains how time could emerge out of a quantum theory of gravity.
Mehdi Ahmadi, a lecturer at the Santa Clara University and co-author of the study, said:
“Physicists have sought to accommodate the dynamical nature of time in quantum theory for decades.”
“In our work, we predict corrections to relativistic time dilation which stem from the fact that the clocks used to measure this effect are quantum mechanical in nature,” he added.
Similarly to how carbon dating depends on decaying atoms to figure out the age of particular organic objects, the lifetime of an excited atom works a lot like a clock. Suppose such an atom moves in a superposition state of various speeds. In that case, its lifetime will be affected, either increasing or decreasing, according to the nature of the superposition relative to ana tom moving at a set speed.
The atom’s lifetime modification is so tiny that it would be nearly impossible to determine it in terms that make sense to regular physics.
However, considering that effect might lead to a quantum time dilation test using the most performant atomic clocks.
Just as quantum mechanics’ utility makes its way into modern domains like medical imaging, microscopy, and computing, better understandings of the phenomenons is crucial. Those applications might have been hard to predict when relativity theory was being developed in the early 1900s. It’s unfortunately too early to tell the full potential of quantum time dilation into science.