National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) advances in atomic clocks and telescope cameras made it into five magazines' lists of the top science and technology stories of 2013.
NIST's ytterbium lattice atomic clocks—the world's most stable clocks as of 2013*—were cited in two media lists of the year's top discoveries. These experimental clocks use about 10,000 rare-earth atom strapped in a lattice of laser light to achieve high stability, which can be thought of as how precisely the duration of each tick matches every other tick. Time magazine's The25 Best Inventions of the Year 2013 include, in the Totally Cool category, A New Atomic Clock. In addition, the French science magazine La Recherche cited advances in atomic clocks, including NIST's ytterbium clocks, as the number six discovery of the year.
A discovery by the South Pole Telescope, which relies on a camera made of NIST's superconducting sensors and amplifiers,** was cited in two magazines' top 10 lists and another magazine's year in review.
Physics World's Top10 Breakthroughs of 2013 include the "first detection of a subtle twist in light from the cosmic microwave background (CMB), known as B-mode polarization." This faint signal, caused by ancient light deflecting off matter, maps the distribution of all matter in the universe. This information can be used to study the properties of dark matter, dark energy, the masses of the neutrinos and test models of the evolution of the universe. The magazine cited "improvements in detector technology" as the major reason behind the discovery. The background signal detected in 2013 will be subtracted from future observations of spatial variations in the CMB as scientists look for gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time, that would indicate rapid early inflation of the universe.
Astronomy magazine's Top 10 Space Stories of 2013 included the South Pole Telescope's detection of B-mode polarization at number three: Advanced instruments observe the early universe. The magazine called the discovery "an important milestone in research, as it shows that scientists are digging deeper into what the CMB holds." The discovery was also mentioned in Nature magazine's 365 Days: 2013 in review.
*See 2013 NIST Tech Beat article, "NIST Ytterbium Atomic Clocks Set Record for Stability."
**See 2013 NIST Tech Beat article, "NIST Goes to the End of the Earth for Measurement Science" and NIST Facebook post at www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150655358415365.445461.211075745364&type=3. Background information is available in a 2009 NIST news release, "NIST Super-Sensors to Measure 'Signature' of Inflationary Universe."