atomic fountain clock
sâ'at-e favvâre-ye atomi
Fr.: horloge à fontaine atomique
An → atomic clock based on the principle of the → atomic fountain. A ball of atoms, usually → cesium (133Cs), created by the → laser cooling technique, is trapped in the intersection region of six laser beams. The ball is thrown upward by a laser beam and passes twice through a cavity where the atoms interact with the → microwave radiation generated by an → oscillator. The ball reaches the summit of its trajectory (about 1 m above the cooling zone) and then due to gravity falls through the same microwave cavity. The microwave radiation causes the electrons of the cesium atoms to move between two specific → energy states as they pass through the cavity. The clock is based on a → hyperfine transition (9.192631770 GHz) between two energy states in the electronic → ground state of the atom. The upper hyperfine state can in principle radiate to the lower state by → spontaneous emission, but the process takes a very long time -- thousands of years. Selection and detection of the hyperfine state is performed via → optical pumping and laser induced resonance fluorescence. In a carefully controlled setup, a relative uncertainty of 10 -16 can be reached for the cesium clock. This means an accuracy of 1 sec every 300 million years. This fluorescence is measured by a detector. The entire process is repeated until the maximum fluorescence of the cesium atoms is determined. This determination is used to lock the oscillator to the atomic frequency of cesium, which is used to define the SI → second. The first atomic fountain for metrological use was developed at the Paris Observatory (A. Clairon et al. 1996, Proc. 5th Symp. Frequency Standards and Metrology, p. 45).