The question Jun Ye gets asked the most is: why would you want to make the world’s most precise clock?
For many of us, who live our lives by the day, hour or, if we’re lucky, by the moment, it’s difficult to understand the use in splitting time up into smaller and smaller chunks.
But as the Colorado University, Boulder physics professor explained to me over Skype, the endeavor of studying time is anything but futile. Time, Ye said, isn’t just at the heart of everything we do, but at the very core of understanding how the universe functions.
“Time is one of the most fundamental tools that connects us to nature” Ye said. The passage of the sun across the sky allowed ancient Egyptians to track their work hours, the pull of gravity kept pendulum clocks ticking to allow seafarers to navigate the oceans, and the vibration of quartz under stress brought timekeeping on to people’s wrists. Measuring time has always been at the heart of human society, Ye explained, but how we do that has changed considerably.
As measurements became more precise, scientists discovered that these natural timekeepers were fickle and inconsistent. They searched for clock mechanisms that wouldn’t fall behind or need to be reset as often.
The search led physicists to atoms, which “tick” naturally thanks to their physical properties. Inside each atom are even smaller particles that are arranged like a solar system. In the core are protons and neutrons, the sun, and orbiting them at increasing distances are electrons, the planets. In the tiny, subatomic world, atoms obey the laws of quantum physics. Electrons can jump between orbits and, when they do, they give off or absorb a tiny jolt of microwave radiation and change into a different energy state. This happens many times every second and each jump back and forth is the atom’s transition frequency, or clock tick.
Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.