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UD physicist Marianna Safronova and collaborators have won a
highly competitive Synergy Grant from the European Research Council to
develop nuclear clock technology. The grant is worth more than $15
million over six years.
The atomic clocks
that give extraordinary precision to the Global Positioning System (GPS)
are based on transitions between energy states of atoms. Many advances
have been made since the launch of the GPS satellites and the best world
clock is now accurate to within one second every 30 billion years.
Now a four-investigator team that includes University of Delaware physicist Marianna Safronova has won a prestigious Synergy Grant from the European Research Council
to build a new type of clock the nuclear clock. She joins a team of
pioneers in the field Thorsten Schumm of Vienna University of
Technology, Ekkehard Peik of Physicaklisch-Technishe Bundesanstalt (PTB)
in Braunschweig and Peter Thirolf of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit??t in
The nuclear clock, which has not yet been built but has been on the
radar of physicists for more than 15 years, is based on transition
energy of the thorium-229 nucleus. No other known nucleus has transition
energy that can be accessed by laser, which is a necessary part of
building the clock.
Safronova brings theoretical expertise to the team. Her interest is
in the new opportunities the nuclear clock will provide to search for
undiscovered new physics effects.
The nuclear clock is expected to be
far more sensitive by five or six magnitudes of order than atomic
clocks are to variations in fundamental constants of nature. It is also
extremely sensitive to some of the candidates for dark matter the
missing matter particles that are still unknown but make up most of
the matter in the universe.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
I want to discover natural phenomena we dont yet know about, Safronova said.
The ERC grant, worth more than $15 million over a six-year period,
will provide funding for building the nuclear clocks and exploration of
The nuclear clock project is one of 37 projects
to receive funding in the 2019 ERC competition, which allows groups of
two to four researchers to collaborate on a project none could do alone.
The awards are part of the European Unions Horizon 2020 research and
The 2019 competition was the first to include researchers from
outside Europe. Eight projects, including Safronovas, involve
scientists based in the United States. She is one of 126 principal
investigators overall. The projects will unfold at 95 universities and
research centers in 20 countries.
Also contributing to the nuclear clock project will be researchers at
the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (Heidelberg) and the
Fraunhaufer Institute for Laser Technology (Aachen).
Mariana Safronova is a professor in UDs Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Her research focuses on atomic physics, computational physics, atomic
clocks and the search for new physics, beyond the standard model of
elementary particles. She earned her bachelors and masters degrees in
physics at Moscow State University and her doctorate at the University
of Notre Dame. Before joining UDs faculty in 2003, she did postdoctoral
work at the University of Notre Dame and was a guest researcher at the
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She is a fellow
of the American Physical Society (APS) and past chair of the APS
Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics.
The European Research Council, established by the European Union in
2007, is the premier European funding organization for frontier
research. To date, it has supported more than 9,000 top researchers at
various stages of their careers and more than 50,000 postdoctoral
fellows, doctoral students and other staff working in their research
teams. It is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific
Article by Beth Miller; illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase; photo by Ariel Ramirez
Published Nov. 6, 2019