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August 23, 2016:  Shrink rays may exist only in science fiction, but similar effects are at work in the real world at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  After successfully miniaturizing both clocks and magnetometers based on the properties of individual atoms, NIST physicists have now turned to precision gyroscopes, which measure rotation. 

NIST Atom GyroscopeThe NIST team has demonstrated a compact atomic gyroscope design that could, with further development, be portable, low power, and accurate enough to be used for navigation. Gyroscopes, traditionally based on mechanical components that spin or vibrate, are common in navigation applications and are increasingly used in consumer electronics such as smartphones. The new NIST device might find uses in applications requiring ultra-precise navigation with extreme size, weight and power limits, such as on spacecraft or submarines.
As a bonus, the NIST gyroscope can also simultaneously measure acceleration. A combination gyro/accelerometer enables navigation by “dead reckoning,” without reference to external landmarks or stars.

The NIST gyro’s glass atom chamber is just 3.5 cubic centimeters in size. The entire experimental setup, including low-power lasers and optics, is currently tabletop sized, but NIST researchers aim to shrink the whole apparatus down to a portable cube about the size of a mini refrigerator. Read more>>>