Keeping Time with the Nucleus: A Solid-State Optical Clock Based on a Nuclear Transition
Hudson’s research is focused on investigating a possible role for ultra-cold physics in the new science of quantum computing, a process that, if perfected, would make use of phenomena such as superposition and entanglement that occur in the subatomic realm. In quantum physics, superposition allows a subatomic particle to exist in all of its theoretically possible configurations simultaneously. Superposition collapses when the particle is measured, giving rise to only one of its many possible states. Entanglement occurs when comingled particles such as photons, the smallest bit of light, are separated and subsequently appear to share information over distances at faster-than-light speed. As an early-career teacher, Hudson was responsible for beginning UCLA’s first course on atomic, molecular and optical physics (AMO). He has also won an undergraduate teaching award for his work. Hudson received the Cottrell Scholar Award (CSA) based on his peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects. For his CSA research project Hudson proposes to create a new type of atomic clock, which he calls “the solid-state nuclear optical clock.” It is based on measuring atomic oscillations of a particular isotope of the element thorium. An “isotope” is material that contains the same number of protons but a varying number of neutrons in the nucleus, or center, of its atoms. (Protons and neutrons are the building blocks of atomic nuclei.) Hudson maintains that his new clock will be more precise and stable than traditional atomic clocks, and may offer new ways to miniaturize atomic-clock technology, perhaps giving rise to a “tabletop” model. This, he adds, could lead to advances in data routing security, high-resolution radar and improved global positioning technology. Meanwhile, Hudson’s CSA education project involves developing a new, more effective course in quantum mechanics to promote critical thinking skills for a greater diversity of students, including minorities and women. Quantum mechanics is the study of the behavior of particles and forces in the subatomic realm. He will base the new course on a series of experiments that have become possible in the classroom because of recent developments in optical (light-based) technology that makes them inexpensive and relatively easy to perform.