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

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter Sign up
Follow us on
Facebook
Like
Essay/
Physics
Going nowhere fast

After the success of the Standard Model, experiments have stopped answering to grand theories. Is particle physics in crisis?

Ben Allanach

Essay/
Space Exploration
What if ET is an AI?

After centuries searching for extraterrestrial life, we might find that first contact is not with organic creatures at all

Caleb Scharf