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Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

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Tick-tock cold cold clock with Bill Phillips

2 minutes

How ticking atoms keep ultra-precise time for globe-connecting technologies

From sundials and swinging pendulums to vibrating quartz crystals, humans have many ways of measuring the passage of time. But where accuracy is most essential – in global positioning systems and high-speed communication technologies, for example – we rely on atoms, which tick uniformly and are nearly impossible to interrupt. In this brief video, cleverly animated by Dog and Rabbit, the 1997 physics Nobel laureate William D Phillips explains how his team was able to unleash an atomic timekeeping revolution using lasers and mind-bogglingly low temperatures.

Video by Nature

Animator: Dog & Rabbit

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

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