FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, October 15, 2004

Wear an Atomic Clock on Your Wrist

Ever since their invention, "atomic clocks" have been the gold standard for timekeeping, deviating by less than a second every million or so years. Most are extremely large and require plenty of technical expertise to operate. Now, scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology -- the primary keepers of atomic clocks in the U.S. -- has developed a miniaturized atomic clock that could one day be incorporated into a wristwatch.

The NIST miniature atomic clock is accurate to within a second every 300 years -- not as impressive as its industrial-strength brethren, but hey... in 300 years, you'll probably want a new watch anyhow. It works through a tiny bit of cesium vapor trapped in silicon; the clock measures the oscillation of the cesium atoms to count off time.

You might not need a watch that's that precise, but one immediate application is in GPS systems, where time accuracy and synchronization are critical.