Atomic timekeeping at National Physical Laboratory gets international recognition

Richmond and Twickenham Times: Made to measure: NPL in Teddington Made to measure: NPL in Teddington

Teddington’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has been declared the official birthplace of atomic timekeeping.

The European Physical Society Historic Sites award recognises places in Europe that have made an exceptional contribution to physics and was handed over at the laboratory on Friday, January 31.

he award recognises NPL as the place where the first practical atomic clock was built, a landmark that changed global timekeeping and made modern communications and location services possible.

In the 1950s Louis Essen constructed the atomic clock, Caesium Mk. 1, with fellow physicist John Parry, at NPL.

This new clock kept time more accurately than any other in existence and eventually paved the way for redefining the second in 1967, based on the fundamental properties of caesium atoms, rather than the Earth’s rotation.

Professor John Dudley, president of the European Physical Society, said: “Today NPL is justly recognised as a historic site.

“Essen’s work here, as well as that of many other leading scientists, has benefited the lives of all Europeans by providing the precision of timing required for applications such as advanced telecommunications, navigation and defence systems.”

NPL continues to provide a vital role in managing and distributing the UK’s time and carries out research in time and frequency measurement, which aims to improve timekeeping accuracy.

Dr Brian Bowsher, managing director of NPL, said: “Being recognised by the EPS is an honour and is testament to the work of our current, as well as our past scientists. Although invisible, atomic time has impacted the lives of all of us.

“What’s more, ground-breaking developments continue to be made in this field, with the a new generation of atomic clocks on the horizon that could provide everything from improved satellite navigation systems to more sensitive tests of fundamental physical theories.”

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