We review the ideas and concepts for a clock that is based on a radiative transition in the nucleus rather than in the electron shell. This type of clock offers advantages like an insensitivity against field-induced systematic frequency shifts and the opportunity to obtain high stability from interrogating many nuclei in the solid state. Experimental work concentrates on the low-energy (about 8 eV) isomeric transition in 229Th. We review the status of the experiments that aim at a direct optical observation of this transition and outline the plans for high-resolution laser spectroscopy experiments.
We study thorium-doped CaF2 crystals as a possible platform for optical spectroscopy of the Th-229 nuclear isomer transition. We anticipate two major sources of background signal that might cover the nuclear spectroscopy signal: VUV-photoluminescence, caused by the probe light, and radioluminescence, caused by the radioactive decay of Th-229 and its daughters. We find a rich photoluminescence spectrum at wavelengths above 260 nm, and radioluminescence emission above 220 nm. This is very promising, as fluorescence originating from the isomer transition, predicted at a wavelength shorter than 200 nm, could be filtered spectrally from the crystal luminescence. Furthermore, we investigate the temperature-dependent decay time of the luminescence, as well as thermoluminescence properties. Our findings allow for an immediate optimization of spectroscopy protocols for both the initial search for the nuclear transition using synchrotron radiation, as well as future optical clock operation with narrow-linewidth lasers.
To search for the lowest energy nuclear isomeric transition in Th-229 in solid samples, a novel adsorption technique which prepares Th-229 atoms on a surface of CaF2 is developed. Adsorbed Th-229 is exposed to highly intensive undulator radiation in the wavelength range between 130 and 320 nm, which includes the indirectly measured nuclear resonance wavelength 160(10) nm. After the excitation, fluorescence from the sample is detected with a VUV sensitive photomultiplier tube. No clear signal relating to the nuclear transition is observed and possible reasons are discussed.
We have measured the hyperfine structure and isotope shifts of the 402.0 nm and 399.6 nm resonance lines in 229Th+. These transitions could provide pathways towards the 229Th isomeric nuclear state excitation. An unexpected negative isotope shift relative to 232Th+ is observed for the 399.6 nm line, indicating a strong Coulomb coupling of the excited state to the nucleus. We have developed a new all-order approach to the isotope shift calculations that is generally applicable to heavy atoms and ions with several valence electrons. The theoretical calculations provide an explanation for the negative isotope shift of the 399.6 nm transition and yield a corrected classification of the excited state. The calculated isotope shifts are in good agreement with experimental values.