March 8, 2007

Dad Spends 22 Extra Nanoseconds With Kids, Relativistically Speaking

atomic_clock_minivan.jpgTom Van Baak decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's theory of general relativity and the 50th anniversary of Essen's first cesium clock by taking his family on a trip up Mount Rainier, thereby demonstrating the time-dilating effects of relativity on atomic clocks. You with me?:

As a collector of vintage and modern atomic clocks, I discovered it was possible, using gear found at home, to convert our family minivan into a mobile high-precision time laboratory, complete with batteries, power converters, time interval counters, three children, and three cesium clocks (see photograph). We drove as high as we could up Mount Rainier, the volcano near Seattle, Washington, and parked there for two days. The trip was continuously logged with the global positioning system; the net altitude gain was +1340 meters.
When compared to some of the atomic clocks they'd left at home, the Van Baaks found they'd gained 22 nanoseconds. Of course, to a kid uninterested in such geekery, it must've felt like 44.

An adventure in relative time-keeping [physicstoday via kottke]

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