Posted by Richard N Williams on June 4th, 2009
Chronology – the study of time- has provided science and technology with some incredible innovations and possibilities. From atomic clocks, NTP servers and the GPS system, true and accurate chronology has changed the shape of the world.
Time and the way it is counted has been a preoccupation of mankind since the earliest civilisations. Early chronologists spent their time trying to establish calendars but this proves to be more complicated than first imagined primarily because the earth takes a quarter of a day more than 365 days to orbit the sun.
Establishing the right number of leap days was one of the first challenges and it took several attempts at calendars until the modern Gregorian calendar became adopted by the globe.
When it came to monitoring time at a smaller level great advances were made by Galileo Galilei who would have built the first pendulum clock if only his death hadn’t interrupted his plans. Pendulums were finally invented by Christiaan Huygens and provided the first true glimpse of accurately monitoring the time throughout the day.
The next steps in chronology couldn’t take place though until we had a better understanding of time itself. Newton (Sir Isaac) had the first ideas and had the notion time was absolute” and would flow “equably” for all observers. This would have been an obvious idea to Newton as many of us regard time as unchanging but it was Einstein in his special theory of relativity that proposed that in fact time wasn’t a constant and would differ to all observers.
It was Einstein’s ideas that proved correct and his model of time and space paved the way for many of the modern technologies we take for granted today such as the atomic clock.
However, chronology doesn’t stop there, timekeepers are constantly looking for ways of increasing accuracy with modern atomic clocks so precise they would not lose a second in millions of years.
There are other notable figures in the modern world of chronology too. Professor David Mills from the University of Delaware devised a protocol in the 1980’s to synchronise computer networks.
His Network Time Protocol (NTP) is now used in computer systems and networks all over the world via NTP time servers. A NTP server ensures computers on opposite sides of the globe can run exactly the same time.