Among the features of the new comb is the wide spacing between the teeth – 10 to 100 times wider than the gaps found in
typical larger combs. This spacing allows scientists to measure
and manipulate the teeth more easily. The widely spaced teeth
can be individually read by astronomical instruments. The combs
could thus be used as ultrastable frequency references in the
search for Earthlike planets orbiting distant stars.
Portable frequency combs could have other applications also,
the researchers said. For example, because a frequency comb can
simultaneously generate hundreds of telecommunication channels
from a single low-power source, a microcomb eventually might
replace the individual lasers now used for each channel in fiber
“So far, our compact comb works in the telecom band near
1550 nm,” Papp said. “But to take advantage of the world’s most
precise optical atomic clocks at NIST, we will have to increase
the comb’s spectral range by a factor of 10.”
To do this, Papp said his team will have to learn more about
the mechanisms that control broad-bandwidth generation of the
microcomb spectrum. In addition, they will have to understand
and implement appropriate means to interface the device with
ultrastable atomic clock signals.
“Both of these steps are critical for microcombs to be used as
the ‘gears’ of next-generation optical clocks,” Papp said.
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