It’s about time

Secular researchers agree: creationist helps develop the most precise clocks in the universe


John Hartnett

A recent article on several secular science websites was titled Where Is the Best Clock in the Universe?1 The subtitle summarized its contents thus: “The widespread belief that pulsars are the best clocks in the universe is wrong, say physicists.”

Pulsars (derived from ‘pulsating stars’) are astronomical objects that spin incredibly rapidly, often hundreds of times each second. Each time they rotate, they give off a burst of energy as a radio signal. Pulsars are believed to be the superdense remnants of stars that have collapsed inwards on themselves. A figure skater speeds up her rotation automatically from the mere action of drawing her arms inwards, which reduces the effective diameter of her rotating mass. Similarly, as a star collapses inwards, it would speed up its rotation enormously. So ‘accurate’2 are their regularly timed pulses, that for a long time their ‘accuracy’2 was unmatched by even the finest atomic clocks in the world.

The article referred to the work of “John Hartnett and Andre Luiten at the University of Western Australia” and their uncontested claim that the ‘accuracy’ of pulsars has been exceeded. It states:

“Today, the best optical lattice neutral atom clocks and trapped ion clocks have a frequency stability approaching one part in 1017. By contrast, as more pulsars have been discovered, their timing stability has improved by less than an order of magnitude in the last 20 years. The best millisecond pulsars have a stability of only one part in 1015 at best.”

Who is John Hartnett of ‘universe’s best clock’ renown?

Dr Hartnett receiving the Cady Award in Newport Beach Calif.
Dr Hartnett (at left) receiving the Cady Award in Newport Beach Calif. on June 3rd, 2010. This award by the IEEE UFFC Society is for the development of ultra-stable cryogenic oscillators and their promotion in metrology labs and VLBI radioastronomy.

Dr John Hartnett is a physics professor at the above University. He is also listed as a regular speaker for Creation Ministries International. He is an internationally acknowledged expert in state-of-the-art ultra-stable cryogenic sapphire oscillators, which are now used in frequency standards labs to pump the transition frequency in modern atomic fountain clocks. Using this sapphire oscillator, an atomic fountain clock, the most accurate clock on Earth (and now seemingly in the entire universe), achieves a performance limited only by quantum effects.

Professor Hartnett developed, as lead scientist, the world’s best ultra-high-stability cryogenic sapphire oscillator (a classical ‘clock’)3, with performance unmatched by any other microwave oscillator, and with a fractional frequency instability about 3 × 10–16 at 20 seconds of averaging. This is equivalent to gaining or losing a single second in 30 million years, give or take a few. The ‘clock’ is based on a single crystal of man-made sapphire that is cooled using liquid helium to -267 degrees C, which is just a few degrees above absolute zero.

Recently he co-designed a new type of ultra-low vibration cryostat to implement a cryogenic sapphire oscillator using a low vibration pulse-tube cryo-refrigerator system. The design has been patented by CryoMech Ltd (USA). He was awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage grant, in 2008, to build the oscillator, which has resulted in an oscillator with a performance rivalling the liquid helium cooled version, but without the need for periodic refilling with expensive liquid helium.

John was also awarded the IEEE UFFC Society W.G. Cady Award with the citation: “For the construction of the ultra-stable cryogenic sapphire dielectric resonator oscillators and promotion of their applications in the fields of frequency metrology and radio-astronomy.” The award will be presented at the IEEE International Frequency Control Symposium in Newport Beach, Calif. (USA) in June, 2010.


Such secular awards are not mentioned in the spirit of any sort of puffed-up pride, but as an encouragement to readers. They will likely be thrilled at a Bible-believing scientist getting such worldclass recognition.

The irony will not be lost on most readers, either, that a researcher would get such acclaim in real operational and experimental science for his work in the field of time, while simultaneously he is being vilified for other work he has carried out—also on the question of time.4 He has shown (see his book Starlight, Time and the New Physics) that there is ample time within the Bible’s 6,000-year framework for light to get to us from the most distant objects.

So why the difference in the reception for each of the aspects of his work on time? One obvious one (another involves the difference between operational and historical science) is that the starlight research has implications—because it eliminates a popular excuse for not believing that the Bible is straightforwardly true about creation in 6 ordinary-length days. And if it’s right about that, then it’s most likely right about heaven, hell, and our ultimate accountability to our Maker. No wonder there’s such a fuss about creation/evolution. If you’re outside of Christ, and relying on ‘science’ as your rationale for remaining that way, shouldn’t you find out more about the Good News, and check out why real science and biblical Christianity go hand in hand? After all, it’s about time—an eternity of it, one way or the other.

Published: 3 June 2010


  1. For example, http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/25008/ Return to text.
  2. The correct word is ‘precision’ (see footnote) but ‘accuracy’ is commonly (though incorrectly) used as a synonym in the media. Precision describes the stability of the output signal. Return to text.
  3. In SI nomenclature, the second is currently defined in terms of atomic clocks, via a cesium (Cs) standard, so technically only an atomic clock can be accurate. But both mechanical clocks and pulsars can be precise (to varying degrees of precision) in the sense described in footnote. Return to text.
  4. It bears mentioning in the light of the academic persecution documented in both the Expelled DVD, and the book Slaughter of the Dissidents, that Dr Hartnett has a tenured position, i.e. he cannot be fired for expressing a dissident scientific opinion. At the same time, he has not experienced any sort of pressure at the University for his Christian views, despite these being widely known on the internet. Return to text.

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