Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How does a Cs-fountain clock work?

A clock is a timekeeping device. In the past, people used the shadow of a building, the position of some fixed stars, the sun, the moon and some other heavenly bodies to keep track of time. As the human civilization progressed, they developed some devices like a water clock and a sand clock to know time. In the early seventeenth century, Galileo discovered that a swinging pendulum can be used as a time keeping device. Inspired by this discovery, Christian Huygens invented a pendulum clock in the mid seventeenth century. These clocks can still be seen used in several places. In the mid twentieth century, it was discovered that atoms can be used to keep time. The 1955 Cesium Atomic Clock with a Cesium beam tube developed at the National Physical Laboratory, UK, kept time to a second in 300 years. To increase the accuracy of the clocks, the interrogation time had to be increased. This could be done by decreasing the speed of the atomic beam or by increasing the length of the the tube. But the problem with the increasing the length of the tube was that the atoms would form a sag in travelling through the tube due to gravitational potential. A new idea was developed where the tube could be rotated so that it would be in a vertical position and the atomic beam could be projected vertically upward. This new configuration along with the development of the laser cooling techniques developed in early nineties made the modern, highly accurate Cesium fountain clocks possible. The modern Cesium clocks developed at NIST, Boulder, Colorado, USA would neither gain nor lose a second in more than 60 million years.

Note: This posting is in progress.

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