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A clock beats inside the heart of every atom

By: April Carson

Every timekeeping device, whether accurate to nanoseconds or not, employs a type of pendulum. The regularity inherent in the swinging of a pendulum is what allows us to keep time. Clocks have been around for centuries, and they've come in all shapes and sizes. Some use sand, some use water, some use mercury. But they all work because of the ticking heart at the center of every atom.

Humans have long been interested in keeping track of time, and many civilizations throughout history have come up with various methods for doing so. Every new timekeeping technology has been followed by a new set of social customs. What is particularly remarkable about the technology we employ in today's world is that it all relies on physics at the atomic level.

Atomic clocks and atomic clocks in satellites provide us with the most accurate time measurement we've ever devised. The actual time is made up of the vibrations of atoms, which oscillate billions of times each second. Our calendar relies on them and our communications systems depend on them.

From the sun's location to that of electrons

In the pre-industrial era, people only needed to keep track of years and months with a high level of accuracy. The sun's position in the sky was adequate enough to split the day into two halves. It was not necessary to keep track of time at such a fine degree of precision.

But as our civilization has become more complex, we've come to rely on ever-more accurate timekeeping. Atoms and atomic clocks provide us with that accuracy.

As a consequence, mankind's appetite for timepieces grew. Finally, modern industry developed. Fast-moving machinery has taken over human activity, and seconds hands are required. The timing of electronic circuits in today's digital world means that billionths or trillionths of a second actually count. If we lose track of the high-tech things we require, from our phones to our automobiles, we won't be able to control or alter them. We'll need clocks that are quicker than the timing of the machines we need to manage in order for technology to function. For today's tech, it implies being able to measure seconds, milliseconds, or even nanoseconds with extreme accuracy is required.

The principle on which time keeping devices function is the use of a pendulum. To defeat a basic unit of time, something must swing back and forth. Gears and springs were used in mechanical clocks. However, metal warms or cools differently, causing it to change shape, and friction degrades mechanical components. These limitations restrict the accuracy of these clockmaking equipment. As human culture grew more rapid, it demanded a sort of hyper-fast pendulum that would never wear down as a result of use. The search for an accurate timepiece led to the development of the atomic clock.

Fortunately, scientists discovered what was hiding inside each atom's heart.

Every bit of matter in the universe is sensitive to and reflects electromagnetic radiation at particular frequencies. The element has an effect on these frequencies (and their related wavelengths). When you expose a hydrogen atom to the complete range of optical light, it will absorb only a few frequencies (colors). The rest of the frequencies are unaffected. During the early years of the 20th century, quantum mechanics explained this strange behavior in physics. Quantum theory demonstrated how light and matter interact as electrons move from one orbit around their atom's nucleus to another. Electrons transition from one orbit around their atom's nucleus to another.

The best clocks are those that use atomic time

How do Atomic Clocks Work?

To put it simply, an atomic clock uses the natural vibrations of atoms to keep time. These vibrations, or oscillations, occur at a very precise frequency that can be used to keep track of the passage of time.

When a photon is absorbed, its energy is transferred to an electron and the light particle, or photon, is captured. The opposite process is emission, in which an electron leaps to a lower orbit and emits energy as a photon. Physicists were able to precisely forecast the absorption and emission frequencies of all atoms, ions, and molecules using quantum mechanics.

Although the scientists who did this work had no idea it, these quantum leaps would eventually produce a new timepiece. Inverse time is simply frequency (1/second). This implies that extremely precise measurements of an atom or molecule's transition frequency can be used to measure time precisely.

During World War II, advances in radar allowed waves in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum to be utilized for photon-atom interaction research. This produced the first atomic clock, which was based on ammonia molecules and their microwave frequency changes.

Over the years, scientists have continued to improve upon this technology and make increasingly precise measurements of atoms and molecules. Today, atomic clocks are used in a variety of fields, from particle physics research to navigation systems that rely on the exact timing of signals received from satellites. And despite their incredible precision, these quantum timepieces continue to beat at the heart of every atom.

Cesium atoms were later adopted as the standard way of measuring time, and in 1967 the second was defined as exactly 9,192,631,770 cycles of the cesium atom's transition frequency. Modern atomic clocks are so accurate that they lose or gain nanoseconds each day. Even so, they are the most accurate timekeepers currently available.

Without "pendula" inside atoms, no of the contemporary marvels that help us navigate our world would operate. From the GPS satellites relaying and receiving signals all around the planet to the tiny switches in your cell phone, it's at the bottom of modern physics' most fundamental concepts - quantum leaps - that allows such intricate filigrees of time.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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