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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Optical Clock (part 1)

Scientists have developed a generation of clocks that will keep time without missing a beat for approximately 2 billion years! Called " Optical Clock ", these devices use lasers to detect and measure the frequency with which electrons in atoms vibrate. This technique enables us to divide time into ever tinier and more accurate increments. Researches believe that the new optical clocks are one of the most exciting developments in science in recent years.

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Colorado, USA, have created the most advanced clock in the world. This clock uses the vibrations of electrons in mercury ions to measure time. This clock is likely to run for an astonishing 1.7 billion years without missing a single beat! However, scientists believe that within the next 10 years, it will be possible to create a clock that is so accurate that it will work with total accuracy for 13.7 billion years. To put these statistics into perspective, a normal wristwatch loses 15 seconds every month. Until recently, atomic clocks were the most accurate chronometers or time devices in the world. Atomic clocks measure time to within one second in over 80 million years. A British physicist, Louis Essen, created atomic clocks in 1955 and these clocks have provided the world's standard measurement of time since 1967. However,the new optical clocks are at least 21 times more accurate than their atomic counterparts. As a results, the International Committee for Weights and Measures will replace its existing atomic clocks with optical ones by 2010 in order to set an even more accurate standard for universal time than it does now.

At first sight, it is difficult for the average layman to understand the implications of these new optical clocks. What benefits will this technology bring? In fact, the possible applications are only just beginning to emerge. As one excited scientist explains, "It is mind boggling when you think about the accuracy we are getting today. We probably haven't even thought of some of the applications these clocks will have yet".

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