The 2013 NAWCC Ward Francillon Time Symposium and Special Exhibition of Spectacular Clocks, Watches, and Sundials
by The Pre-Eminent Master
Thomas Tompion (1639–1713)

California Institute of Technology Pasadena, California

7-9 November 2013

Thomas O’Brian

Chief, Time and Frequency Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S.A.)

Atomic Clock:
Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

  • Biography
  • Presentation
  • Further Information
  • Thomas O’Brian is Chief of the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, which serves as the nation’s official timekeeper, operates several of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks, and performs research to develop new atomic clocks and related technologies. In addition to official U.S. time, NIST provides a broad range of measurement, standards, and research that enable innovation and technology development. NIST scientists have won three Nobel Physics prizes in areas closely related to research on atomic clocks. O’Brian received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin and has worked in various research and leadership positions at NIST since 1991.
    The world’s best atomic clocks can measure time to better than a trillionth of a second per day, and their performance continues to rapidly improve. Such precision may seem relevant to only the most fanatical clock watchers. But atomic clock-level timing and synchronization underpin much of our modern technology. Every time you turn on a light switch, make a cell phone call, or use your smartphone for location, you are relying on an international web of atomic timekeeping. Future generations of atomic clocks will not only improve these familiar technologies, but will enable entirely new types of technologies exploiting such things as Einstein’s relativity in everyday life. Thomas O’Brian will briefly explore the history of atomic timekeeping, discuss how atomic clocks are embedded into our daily lives, and speculate about a future where super-accurate atomic clocks bring the strange properties of relativity and quantum mechanics to our everyday lives.