Dubbed NIST-F2, the clock uses a fountain of cesium atoms to determine the length of a second, and will neither gain nor lose a second in 300 million years of operation, making it three times as accurate as NIST-F1, the current standard.
NIST scientists recently reported the first official performance data for NIST-F2, which has been under development for a decade, to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), located near Paris, France. That agency collates data from atomic clocks around the world to produce Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the international standard of time. According to BIPM data, NIST-F2 is now the world's most accurate time standard.
NIST-F2 is the latest in a series of cesium-based atomic clocks developed by NIST since the 1950s. In its role as the U.S. measurement authority, NIST strives to advance atomic timekeeping, which is part of the basic infrastructure of modern society. Many everyday technologies, such as cellular telephones, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite receivers, and the electric power grid, rely on the high accuracy of atomic clocks. Historically, improved timekeeping has consistently led to technology improvements and innovation.
"If we've learned anything in the last 60 years of building atomic clocks, we've learned that every time we build a better clock, somebody comes up with a use for it that you couldn't have foreseen," says NIST physicist Steven Jefferts, lead designer of NIST-F2.