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Predehl, Katharina (2012): A 920 km optical fiber link for frequency metrology at the 19th decimal place. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Physics
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Abstract

With residual uncertainties at the 10^-18 level, modern atomic frequency standards constitute extremely precise measurement devices. Besides frequency and time metrology, they provide valuable tools to investigate the validity of Einstein's theory of general relativity, to test a possible time variation of the fundamental constants, and to verify predictions of quantum electrodynamics. Furthermore, applications as diverse as geodesy, satellite navigation, and very long base-line interferometry may benefit from steadily improving precision of both microwave and optical atomic clocks. Clocks ticking at optical frequencies slice time into much finer intervals than microwave clocks and thus provide increased stability. It is expected that this will result in a redefinition of the second in the International System of Units (SI). However, any frequency measurement is based on a comparison to a second, ideally more precise frequency. A single clock, as highly developed as it may be, is useless if it is not accessible for applications. Unfortunately, the most precise optical clocks or frequency standards can not be readily transported. Hence, in order to link the increasing number of world-wide precision laboratories engaged in state-of-the-art optical frequency standards, a suitable infrastructure is of crucial importance. Today, the stabilities of current satellite based dissemination techniques using global satellite navigation systems (such as GPS, GLONASS) or two way satellite time and frequency transfer reach an uncertainty level of 10^-15 after one day of comparison . While this is sufficient for the comparison of most microwave clock systems, the exploitation of the full potential of optical clocks requires more advanced techniques. This work demonstrates that the transmission of an optical carrier phase via telecommunication fiber links can provide a highly accurate means for clock comparisons reaching continental scales: Two 920 km long fibers are used to connect MPQ (Max-Planck- Institut für Quantenoptik, Garching, Germany) and PTB (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig, Germany) separated by a geographical distance of 600 km. The fibers run in a cable duct next to a gas pipeline and are actively compensated for fluctuations of their optical path length that lead to frequency offsets via the Doppler effect. Together with specially designed and remotely controllable in-line amplication this enables the transfer of an ultra-stable optical signal across a large part of Germany with a stability of 5 x 10^-15 after one second, reaching 10^-18 after less than 1000 seconds of integration time. Any frequency deviation induced by the transmission can be constrained to be smaller than 4 x 10^-19. As a first application, the fiber link was used to measure the 1S-2S two photon transition frequency in atomic hydrogen at MPQ referenced to PTB's primary Cs-fountain clock (CSF1). Hydrogen allows for precise theoretical analysis and the named transition possesses a narrow natural line width of 1.3 Hz. Hence, this experiment constitutes a very accurate test bed for quantum electrodynamics and has been performed at MPQ with ever increasing accuracy. The latest measurement has reached a level of precision at which satellite-based referencing to a remote primary clock is limiting the experiment. Using the fiber link, a frequency measurement can be carried out directly since the transmission via the optical carrier phase provides orders of magnitude better stability than state-of-the-art microwave clocks. The achieved results demonstrate that high-precision optical frequency dissemination via optical fibers can be employed in real world applications. Embedded in an existing telecommunication network and passing several urban agglomerations the fiber link now permanently connects MPQ and PTB and is operated routinely. It represents far more than a proof-of-principle experiment conducted under optimized laboratory conditions. Rather it constitutes a solution for the topical issue of remote optical clock comparison. This opens a variety of applications in fundamental physics such as tests of general and special relativity as well as quantum electrodynamics. Beyond that, such a link will enable clock-based, relativistic geodesy at the sub-decimeter level. Further applications in navigation, geology, dynamic ocean topography and seismology are currently being discussed. In the future, this link will serve as a backbone of a Europe-wide optical frequency dissemination network.