Some physicists are creating a revolution in the arcane world of ultra-precise clocks. And among them is a researcher who has trouble getting anywhere on time. “I do tend to be a little bit late,” said Jim Bergquist, 58. “Quite a bit late.” Of course, the time he focuses on professionally is far removed from the world of dinner dates and planes to catch.
Bergquist, who is with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado, works with extremely accurate devices that rely on the behaviour of atoms to measure time. In fact, he is working on what could be the world’s most accurate such timepiece. The new way is so accurate that Bergquist believes it will probably make scientists redefine just what a second is.
This summer, Bergquist and colleagues published a head-to-head comparison of the nation’s standard ultra-precise clock with the new technology he and others have been pursuing. The results were pretty clear. The current standard clock will neither gain nor lose a second in 70 million years.
The new clock pushes that figure out to 400 million years. Bergquist figures that with further development, the new technology will become at least 100 times as accurate as the standard kind of clock could ever be.
The secret of the new clock? It “ticks” faster than the standard one. And the more ticks per unit of time, the more precisely the unit’s measurement.