Chip-scale molecular clock
December 19, 2018
An ultra-stable time-keeping device is presented, which locks its output clock frequency to the rotational-mode transition of polar gaseous molecules. Based on a high-precision spectrometer in the sub-terahertz (THz) range, our new clocking scheme realizes not only fully electronic operation but also implementations using mainstream CMOS technology. Meanwhile, the small wavelength of probing wave and high absorption intensity of our adopted molecules (carbonyl sulfide, 16O12C32S) also enable miniaturization of the gas cell. All these result in an "atomic-clock-grade" frequency reference with small size, power, and cost. This paper provides the architectural and chip-design details of the first proof-of-concept molecular clock using a 65-nm CMOS bulk technology. Using a 231.061-GHz phase-locked loop (PLL) with frequency-shift keying (FSK) modulation and a sub-THz FET detector with integrated lock-in function, the chip probes the accurate transition frequency of carbonyl sulfide (OCS) gas inside a single-mode waveguide, and accordingly adjusts the 80-MHz output of a crystal oscillator. The clock consumes only 66 mW of dc power and has a measured Allan deviation of 3.8 × 10^−10 at an averaging time of tau = 1000 s.