The field of physics has reached a significant milestone as scientists have finally discovered a particular state of thorium atomic nuclei that holds immense technological potential. This discovery opens up the possibility of various revolutionary applications, such as developing a nuclear clock capable of measuring time with unprecedented precision and exploring new frontiers in fundamental physics. The breakthrough in finding the thorium transition has allowed physicists to combine classical quantum physics with nuclear physics, bridging two previously distinct areas of study.

Manipulating atoms or molecules using lasers has been a common practice in scientific research, enabling precise measurements of energy levels and facilitating various advanced technologies. However, applying these techniques to atomic nuclei has long been deemed impractical due to the significant energy required to induce transitions in nuclear states. Unlike atoms and molecules, atomic nuclei possess much higher energy levels, making them challenging to manipulate with conventional laser methods.

For decades, the scientific community has speculated about the existence of a unique atomic nucleus, thorium-229, which exhibits closely adjacent energy states that could potentially be manipulated using laser technology. Despite indirect evidence of the thorium transition, pinpointing the exact energy level required for laser excitation posed a significant challenge. The precision needed to induce the transition accurately was compared to finding a needle in a haystack, highlighting the complexity of the research endeavor.

While some research groups attempted to study thorium nuclei individually using electromagnetic traps, Prof. Thorsten Schumm and his team adopted a different strategy. They developed special crystals containing a large number of thorium atoms, allowing for simultaneous laser excitation of approximately 10^17 thorium nuclei. This innovative approach amplified the effect, reduced measurement time, and increased the likelihood of detecting the energy transition successfully.

On November 21, 2023, the research team led by Prof. Schumm achieved a significant milestone by precisely hitting the energy level required for the thorium transition. The laser excitation effectively switched the state of thorium nuclei, providing a clear signal of the successful manipulation. This breakthrough heralds a new era of research possibilities, particularly in the realm of precision measurements and technological advancements.

The discovery of the thorium transition opens up a myriad of possibilities for future research and applications in physics. The development of a highly accurate atomic clock, based on the oscillation of light exciting the thorium transition, promises enhanced timekeeping capabilities beyond current atomic clocks. Moreover, the newfound ability to analyze the Earth’s gravitational field with unprecedented precision holds potential for identifying mineral resources and predicting seismic activities.

The successful manipulation of the thorium transition represents a significant advancement in the field of nuclear physics. The integration of laser technology with atomic nuclei opens up new avenues for exploration, from enhancing timekeeping accuracy to unraveling fundamental mysteries of the universe. This breakthrough serves as a testament to the relentless pursuit of scientific discovery and the boundless potential of human ingenuity.


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