Big in Japan: Japanese create the world’s most accurate clock

Disclaimer: This posting is also about science, which I know isn’t exactly one of the sexiest stories on Gadling at the moment. However, I can assure you in plain and simple laymen’s terms that this post will be really, really cool to read.

As I pointed out last week in my posting on how scientists were able to photograph mice memories, high technology is something that you take for granted when you live in Japan.

While the news in the States is usually full of ridiculous stories like Britney Spear’s latest drug-induced exploits, Japanese people take great pride in hearing about their country’s technological breakthroughs.

And breakthroughs they are – think about all of the cool things to come out of Japan in recent decades, like the Sony Walkman, the Nintendo Wii and the Hello Kitty toaster!

Anyway, if you’ll allow me to post another science-y article here on Gadling, I want to tell you why the future of clocks is awesome.

This week in Japan, researchers at the University of Tokyo allowed the public to take a peek at what is being hailed as the world’s most accurate timepiece.

Anything but a mere wristwatch, this new clock has the potential to improve our ability to make accurate measurements, as well as revolutionizing GPS technology.

The new proposed clock is being called an optical lattice clock. Although the actual definition of this timepiece is pretty daunting, the concept is actually fairly simple.

For instance, think of a box containing two sets of intersecting laser beams. Within this grid, imagine a whole bunch of mercury atoms floating in space.

Basically, one set of lasers creates a wave that holds the atoms at rest, while the other set reads the atoms’ energy levels to determine the time.

Although it is still in the experimental stage, team leader Hidetoshi Katori gave the following statement to the Associated Press (AP): “We hope that the proposed clock…will be the most accurate one, although it is not experimentally demonstrated yet.”

However, the clock’s accuracy is currently being tested, and it is hoped that the project will be deemed a success in a few week’s time.

Next question: why are optical lattice clock so much more accurate than current atomic clocks?

(Good question!)

To date, our most accurate clocks are based on the atomic vibrations of the cesium atom, a technology that is more than 50 years old.

Although to date this technology has served us well, the problem is that after 30 million years or so, the clock will be off by about one second.

However, researchers expect that the new clock will lose only a fraction of a second over 14 billion years, which is roughly the age of the universe.

Next question: So what’s the big deal you ask?

(Another good question!)

Basically, the problem lies in the modern area of GPS systems, which are based on determining extremely tiny fractions of a second differences between the signals of orbiting satellites.

So, if the experiment is a success, the Japanese could be paving the way for GPS systems that are so accurate, you could literally find a needle in a haystack.

See – science can sometimes be cool!