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Physics research at NIST includes everything from improving the safety of medical radiation procedures to developing future "quantum information" technologies that generate unbreakable codes. NIST provides the measurements, standards, and technical expertise scientists and industries need to push the limits of the fundamental properties of nature.

Key Accomplishments

  • Atomic clocks: NIST built the world’s first atomic clock, showing how to achieve the precise synchronization now critical to many modern technology systems, from GPS satellites for navigation to stock exchanges. NIST continues to operate atomic clocks, including the U.S. civilian time standard.
  • Frequency combs: NIST scientists developed the frequency comb, a “ruler of light” that made possible the latest atomic clocks, which may serve as future time standards. Frequency comb applications are also helping to find Earth-like planets, identify atmospheric chemicals and locate gas leaks.
  • Laser cooling: NIST physicists led the development and application of methods of cooling and trapping atoms with laser light, leading to the creation of new states of matter, advances in experimental quantum computing, and the awarding of three related Nobel Prizes to NIST physicists.

The Research

Projects & Programs

Yb Optical Lattice Clock

The very best atomic clocks today are known as optical clocks, because their timebase resides at a very high frequency (~10 15 Hz), corresponding to the optical

Additional Resources Links


Keeping Time at NIST

Einstein is reported to have once said that time is what a clock measures. Some say that what we experience as time is really our experience of the phenomenon of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy, loosely explained, is the tendency for things to become disorganized. Hot coffee always goes cold. It never reheats itself. Eggs don’t unscramble themselves. Your room gets messy and you

World’s Most Accurate and Precise Atomic Clock Pushes New Frontiers in Physics

NIST Researchers Identify a Cheaper, More Convenient Method to Detect Asbestos

With Some Bumps, NIST Scientists Devise a Novel Way to Extend the Wavelength Range of Microcombs

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Upcoming Events

2024 Time and Frequency Seminar

Tue, Aug 13 - Thu, Aug 15 2024
NIST Time and Frequency Division's annual seminar covers precision clocks and oscillators, atomic frequency standards