NIST-F1 Atomic Clock

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NIST-F1 is a cesium fountain clock, a type of atomic clock, in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, and serves as the United States' primary time and frequency standard. The clock took less than four years to test and build, and was developed by Steve Jefferts and Dawn Meekhof of the Time and Frequency Division of NIST's Physical Measurement Laboratory.


The NIST-F1 Atomic Clock
The clock replaced NIST-7, a cesium beam atomic clock used from 1993 to 1999. NIST-F1 is ten times more accurate than NIST-7. It has been succeeded by a new standard, NIST-F2, announced in April 2014. The NIST-F2 standard aims to be about three times more accurate than the NIST-F1 standard, and there are plans to operate it simultaneously with the NIST-F1 clock.

The apparatus consists of an optical molasses made of counter-propagating lasers which cool and trap a gas of cesium atoms. Once trapped, the atoms are propelled upward by two vertical lasers inside a microwave chamber. Depending on the exact frequency of the microwaves, the cesium atoms will reach an excited state. Upon passing through a laser beam, the atoms will fluoresce (emit photons). The microwave frequency which produces maximum fluorescence is used to define the second.

Similar atomic fountain clocks, with comparable accuracy, are operated by other time and frequency laboratories, such as the Paris Observatory, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the United Kingdom and the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Germany. More details