Science: The Shake

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In the process of building such intricate gadgets as radar, sonar and the proximity fuse, electronics engineers learned to measure time down to fractions as small as one millionth of a second. Last week at Brookhaven National Laboratory's nuclear science symposium, scientists agreed that one millionth is still too thick a slice of time for modern work: measurements for atomic experiments must be made a great deal faster than that.

In testing atomic weapons, the AEC often spots instruments close to the center of the blast. Information coming back from them must be recorded and evaluated before the instruments evaporate in the fierce heat of the explosion. To get the results in time's atomic nick, the engineers have already begun to measure in two ten-billionths of a second.

The split-second technicians have taken over an old slang word to describe their work. In the language of the laboratory, a shake is now a precise interval, meaning one hundred-millionth of a second.