The clock went into service at The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Boulder, CO facility, and will serve as the new standard for accuracy especially for communications networks and positioning systems that require this level of precision. Power grids and packet-switched networks need accuracy of one millionth of a second each day, while GPS systems require a billionth of a second per day, that has surely been crushed with this new standard.

Atomic Clock

Atomic Clock: The importance of accuracy

“You are always going to lose some of the accuracy [in delivering time to cell sites and network servers],” said Thomas O’Brian, chief of NIST’s Time and Frequency Division.

The lead designer of the clock, Steven Jefferts, pointed out that accuracy leads to 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,” he said.

What is UTC?

To call the NIST-F2 a clock is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not a clock but rather a device that measures a single second. With the new standard a second has become the frequency of cession atom that vibrates 9,192,631,770 times per second. The new clock along with its predecessor are expected to both chime in on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

Though the International Bureau of Weights and Measures is headquartered in France, the United States is its biggest contributor. Data is assembled using around 60 timing labs globally with the NIST’s two clocks contributing just over 10% of these measures while US Naval Observatory clocks add around a third of measurements used.

According to the designer, its unlikely that a cesium clock will ever again become three times as accurate as this clock has done. It’s expected that the next clock built will be an optical clock which is even more accurate.