Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

The Technology of Time

PostedDecember 27, 2003

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Exactly when the new year arrives is decided several months in advance by an international group of scientists.  Their job is to keep the world's clocks in synch with how fast the earth is spinning, which—and you may find this a bit disconcerting—is constantly changing.  So some years we have to adjust the time New Year's arrives by a second or two.  Our national standard clock, based on vibrations of the cesium atom, is much more reliable than earth, slipping only a second every 30 million years.  Engineers need such accuracy in technologies like GPS satellites, electric power equipment, and cell phone base stations, but their clocks are big and clunky.  Much smaller timepieces must be engineered, and it's only a matter of time before you can count down to the new year on an atomic wrist watch.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP Radio.