New Optical Lattice Clock Could Redefine Time

September 21, 2013

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. precise [pri-SAHYS] (adj.) – very exact
Example: The customer gave a precise description of the type of watch he wants.

2. oscillation [os-uh-LEY-shuh n] (n.) – a single swing or movement from one position to another
Example: One oscillation of the clock’s pendulum represents one second.

3. swap [swop] (v.)  – to exchange or trade something for another
Example: My mother swapped her old analog watch for a digital watch.

4. superfluous [soo-PUR-floo-uhs] (adj.) – being more than what is required or necessary
Example: Since the clock only needs two batteries, buying a dozen seems a little bit superfluous.

5. give one a run for one’s money [giv wuhn ey ruhn fawhr wuhns muh n-ee] (idiom) – to compete against a strong competitor
Example: My sister’s new car is fast but my motorcycle could give it a run for its money.


Read the text below.
Physicists in France are testing a new clock that is so accurate it could lead to a new definition of time.

The new clock, called the optical lattice [LAT-is] clock, loses just one second every 300 million years. This performance makes the optical lattice clock three times more precise than the atomic clock, which loses one second every 100 million years.

Since 1967, atomic clocks have been used to set the standard for time. Atomic clocks work by measuring the movement of cesium [SEE-zee-uh m] atoms that are exposed to microwaves. One second is defined as the time needed for a cesium atom to perform more than nine billion oscillations.

The lattice clock, on the other hand, swaps the element cesium for strontium [STRON-shee-uh m] and uses lasers instead of microwaves. The oscillations of strontium are 40,000 times faster than that of cesium, allowing scientists to measure time more accurately than with an atomic clock. This result could one day lead to a new definition of the second.

While saving a few seconds every several million years might seem superfluous to some people, many industries depend on high-precision timekeeping. Every day, technologies like satellites, GPS, and even the stock market require timepieces that are precisely synchronized. These technologies could thus benefit from the new optical lattice clocks.

On another note, a new clock being developed in the US could give the optical lattice clock a run for its money. Called the ion clock, it is believed to lose only one second every 3.7 billion years. However, it is not yet stable enough and still requires further study.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you think it is important to have clocks that are as accurate as the optical lattice clock? Why or why not?
·         What do you think would happen if our clocks became inaccurate? Discuss with your tutor.

Discussion B

·         Why do you think should we value time? Explain.
·         If you could use a time travel machine, what time or period would you like to visit? Why?


September 21, 2013