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Precision timing: This atomic clock won’t go wrong for next 15 BILLION years

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

In a showcase of the remarkable precision of physicists, an atomic clock has been fine-tuned to the point where it won’t lose or gain a second in 15 billion years — longer than the universe has existed.

According to reports made by developers in the journal Nature, the optical lattice clock, which uses strontium atoms, is now three times more accurate than a year ago when it set the previous world record.

The advancement  is significant as it brings science a step closer to replacing the current gold standard in timekeeping: the caesium fountain clock that is used to set Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the official world time.

The clock in the latest study, developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado in Boulder, measures time by detecting the natural vibrations or ticks of strontium atoms in red laser light, said the team.

An NIST statement said that the clock’s stability — how closely each tick matches every other tick, has been improved by almost 50 percent, another world record.

This enhanced stability brings optical lattice clocks closer to the point of replacing the current standard of measurement, the caesium fountain clock, said a Nature press summary.

Currently, international time is set through the caesium fountain clock, which has improved significantly over the decades and can keep time to within one second over 100 million years.

But new, experimental optical clocks that work with strontium atoms at optical frequencies much higher than the microwave frequencies used in caesium clocks, have been shown in recent years to be even more accurate.

The clock is also sensitive enough, the researchers said, to measure tiny changes in the passage of time at different altitudes — a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago and studied ever since.

Study co-author Jun Ye said, “Our performance means that we can measure the gravitational shift when you raise the clock just two centimetres (0.78 inches) on the Earth’s surface.

This is actually one of the strongest points of our approach, in that we can operate the clock in a simple and normal configuration”,  said Ye.

The team had built a radiation shield around the atom chamber of their clock, which means it can be operated at room temperature rather than in cryogenic conditions.

Since 1967 the world’s official unit of time, the second, has been determined by the vibration frequency of an atom of the metallic element Caesium 133 — a method of measurement similar to monitoring the pendulum swings of a grandfather clock.

The study authors say that precise and accurate optical atomic clocks have the potential to transform global timekeeping.

Satellite navigation systems, mobile telephones and digital TV, among other applications, and  research fields such as quantum science require accurate timekeeping.

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Intel and Cray Collaborate With U.S. Government, Aims for Nation’s Fastest Computer

The world's current most powerful machine, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, contains chips from International Business Machines Corp. and Nvidia.

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This Jan. 1, 2018, file photo shows an Intel logo on the box containing an HP desktop computer on sale at a Costco in Pittsburgh. VOA

A U.S. government-led group is working with chipmaker Intel and Cray to develop and build the nation’s fastest computer by 2021 for conducting nuclear weapons and other research, officials said Monday.

The Department of Energy and the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago said they were working on a supercomputer dubbed Aurora with Intel, the world’s biggest supplier of data center chips, and Cray, which specializes in the ultra-fast machines.

The $500 million contract for the project calls on the companies to deliver a computer with so-called exaflop performance — that is, being able to perform 1 quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) calculations per second.

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It also heightens the stakes in a race in which the United States, China, the European Union and Japan have all announced plans to build exaflop-capable supercomputers. VOA

If the project succeeds, Aurora would represent nearly an order of magnitude leap over existing machines that feature so-called petaflop performance, capable of doing 1 quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) calculations a second.

It also heightens the stakes in a race in which the United States, China, the European Union and Japan have all announced plans to build exaflop-capable supercomputers.

One of Aurora’s primary functions would be simulating nuclear blasts, a pillar of weapons development since the ban of live detonation testings.

Aurora will be built with artificial intelligence capabilities for projects such as developing better battery materials and helping the Department of Veterans Affairs prevent suicides, Rick Stevens, an associate lab director with Argonne overseeing the exascale computing project, said during a news
briefing.

The project is a win for Intel, which will supply its Xeon CPU chips and Optane memory chips for Aurora.

FILE - The Nvidia booth is shown at the E3 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June 13, 2017.
The Nvidia booth is shown at the E3 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June 13, 2017. VOA

Intel has been fending off rival U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp.’s rise in the chip content of supercomputers as the machines take on more artificial intelligence work. Nvidia’s chips are found in five of the world’s current top 10 supercomputers, though the Nvidia chips are found alongside chips from its rivals, according to TOP500, which ranks the machines.

The world’s current most powerful machine, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, contains chips from International Business Machines Corp. and Nvidia.

The source of chips for supercomputers has become a factor in trade tensions between the United States and China. The world’s third-fastest supercomputer — the Sunway TaihuLight in China — has chips developed domestically in China.

Also Read: U.S. Tariffs on China Could Remain Same, Even After Reaching The Trade Deal

Chirag Dekate, an analyst with Gartner who studies the supercomputing market, said that despite the small contract size relative to Intel’s overall revenue, the work done on Aurora will eventually filter down to the company’s commercial customers.

“It’s not just a jingoistic race between the U.S. and China,” Dekate said. “The innovations that Intel is developing here will percolate down to other parts of its business.” (VOA)