An international team of physicists says it has discovered a new way to measure time, in a research effort that has led to the creation of a type of “quantum clock”.

The research, conducted by physicists Marta Berholtz, Ronnie Knut, Robert Stefanoyk, Humbus Wickmark, Susmita Saha and Johann Söderström, explored the unique dynamics found within local wave groups, or “wave packets” produced in helium from what is known as Redberg. These states result from electrically excited particles getting close to the ionization point, which the research team achieved using lasers.

“Quantum agreement was found between the theory and time-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy experiments,” the team wrote, which said they were able to demonstrate that revealing the complex behaviors of these wave packets could not only help shed light on “various quantum defects, But on a larger scale, it can also be used to achieve ‘timekeeping without the use of artifacts’.

According to a paper outlining the team’s results, the individual wave packets they observed create their own unique “fingerprint” due to the light ionization they undergo, each uniquely dependent on time.

“Fingerprints identify the amount of time that has passed since the wave beam was formed, and provide confirmation that the time measured is correct,” the study authors say. The researchers likened the resulting unique method of timekeeping to a quantum clock.

“Because high-level Rydberg states can reach lifetimes well above microseconds, [quasiunique beat signatures] It can be used as an artifact-free clock over a wide time period with accuracy in the femtosecond range,” the researchers wrote.

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Unlike traditional timers, the research team says their quantum watch is entirely mechanical and does not require any components like the counters used in regular watches.

“The quantum clock has the potential to become an invaluable tool in pump-probe spectroscopy due to its simplicity,” the team writes, adding that “ensuring accuracy and the ability to provide absolute timestamp” also help make the time measurement method useful in a variety of different applications.

The team published its findings in the journal Physical Review Research.

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