nuClock Towards a nuclear clock with Thorium-229 (nuClock)

Main funder

Funder's project number: 664732

Funds granted by main funder (€)

  • 247 828,00

Funding program

Project timetable

Project start date: 01/07/2015

Project end date: 30/06/2019


Atomic clocks are the backbone of our modern communication and navigation technology, e.g. through the global positioning system (GPS). Improving these clocks will open up exciting new applications in geodesy, fleet tracking, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and shed light on some of the most fundamental questions in research like a temporal and spatial variation of the fundamental forces in nature.

Today's best clocks lose only 1 second in 30 billion years, making them the most precise measurement devices ever built. However, such clocks are extremely delicate and susceptible to external perturbations; they can only be operated in specialized laboratories.

We propose to develop a novel type of clock, based on a unique low-energy nuclear transition in 229Thorium. This nuclear clock will be fundamentally different from existing atomic clocks, which are based on transitions in the electron shell. It will be largely inert to perturbations, simpler by design, and holds the potential to outperform existing atomic clocks in terms of precision.

So far, progress towards an application of the thorium nuclear transition has been hampered by the extreme technological challenges related to the scarcity of 229Thorium, insufficient detector resolution, and exotic laser frequencies. Suitable technology is only becoming available just now. Furthermore, this research demands supreme expertise in a variety of fields, encompassing nuclear and atomic physics, quantum optics, metrology, as well as detector- and laser technology. Our interdisciplinary consortium is assembled to precisely match these requirements, joining for the first time Europe's leading research groups in the respective fields.

This work with focus on two objectives; (i) finding clear evidence of the transition and measuring its frequency, and (ii) developing all key components required for the operation of a nuclear clock.

Our collective endeavor will lay the foundation for the implementation of this radically new technology. We are certain that next-generation satellite-based navigation technology and other precision timing applications will greatly benefit from more precise and robust clocks.

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Last updated on 2022-06-07 at 12:38