Suppressing Loss of Ions in an Atomic Clock
- Created on Sunday, 01 August 2010
Ion traps are excited at two different frequencies.
An improvement has been made in the design of a compact, highly stable mercury-ion clock to suppress a loss of ions as they are transferred between the quadrupole and higher multipole ion traps. Such clocks are being developed for use aboard spacecraft for navigation and planetary radio science. The modification is also applicable to ion clocks operating on Earth: indeed, the success of the modification has been demonstrated in construction and operation of a terrestrial breadboard prototype of the compact, highly stable mercury-ion clock.
When the two traps are driven at the same radio frequency, the strength of confinement can be reduced near the junction between the two traps, depending upon the relative phase of the RF voltage used to operate each of the two traps, and can cause loss of ions during each transit between the traps and thereby cause loss of the 40.507-GHz ion-clock resonance signal.
The essence of the modification is to drive the two traps at different frequencies — typically between 1.5 and 2 MHz for the quadrupole trap and a frequency a few hundred kHz higher for the 16-pole trap. A frequency difference of a few hundred kHz ensures that the ion motion caused by the trapping electric fields is small relative to the diameter of the traps. Unlike in the case in which both traps are driven at the same frequency, the trapping electric fields near the junction are not zero at all times; instead, the regions of low electric field near the junction open and close at the difference frequency. An additional benefit of making the 16-pole trap operate at higher frequency is that the strength or depth of the multipole trap can be increased independent of the quadrupole ion trap.
This work was done by John Prestage and Sang Chung of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:
Innovative Technology Assets Management
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Refer to NPO-45355, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.