ammonia clock

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A form of atomic clock in which the frequency of a quartz oscillator is controlled by the vibrations of excited ammonia molecules. The ammonia molecule (NH3) consists of a pyramid with a nitrogen atom at the apex and one hydrogen atom at each corner of the triangular base. When the molecule is excited, once every 20.9 microseconds the nitrogen atom passes through the base and forms a pyramid the other side: 20.9 microseconds later it returns to its original position. This vibration back and forth has a frequency of 23 870 hertz and ammonia gas will only absorb excitation energy at exactly this frequency. By using a crystal oscillator to feed energy to the gas and a suitable feedback mechanism, the oscillator can be locked to exactly this frequency.

Subjects: Chemistry — Physics.

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