Mark Davis
Mark Davis
Third Place Winner, High School - 2009 Imagine That! Engineering Innovation
South Carolina
When Time is Truly Of the Essence

ballsTime is important to all of us. We use it, check it, and interact with it every day. Usually, though, we use it casually, rounding our estimate of the current time to the quarter hour or minute. However, it is sometimes necessary to measure time much more accurately; down to the second, the millisecond, or even the picosecond. It is at times like these that another device, besides the clock or stopwatch, is necessary - an implement that can measure time quickly and precisely. This picture appears to be a part of a high-speed metronome and/or time-keeping device that keeps accurate measurement of very small increments of time. In order to achieve the precision necessary for such accuracy, the engineer who designed this metronome had to do a number of important things.

Basically, the overall product is a laser-powered metronome. It can keep track of time with a basic rhythm created by the spinning outer sphere of the object. You see, a laser would be shot at an angle at the object shown in the picture. As this is happening, the black outer sphere of the object would spin at a constant rate, while the reflective inner sphere would stay stationary. The laser would bounce off of the reflective inner sphere into a sensor, which would be placed nearby in the device at the proper point at which it could receive the reflected laser. Assuming the outer sphere spins at a constant rate, the attached columns would interrupt the laser beam at equal intervals, allowing the sensor to receive the laser only at the precisely incremented times when the laser was not interrupted.

The product could be used to keep track of time at a very high accuracy, which could have many applications that require a high level of precision such as global positioning systems or space travel.. The time-keeping device would most likely find its best use in the field of science, where complex chemical reactions and collisions of subatomic particles need to be timed on a very small scale but also very accurately. Also, it could be used as a metronome for musicians when given a command to make a sound whenever contact with the laser is interrupted. As a metronome, it would be useful for keeping rhythm for musicians while they practice or for use in their music. (Encyclopædia Britannica).

Both the interior and exterior spheres of this object utilize the features of their design to achieve their purpose. The exterior sphere of this object has structural beams located at even intervals, allowing for evenly incremented and precise measurements. Its light weight and aerodynamic design will allow it to spin at very high speeds, allowing for both fast small and precise measurements. The interior sphere of this object has a reflective surface, which allows the laser to bounce back from the inner sphere into the sensor at the proper intervals. Its spherical shape and its suspension at the exact center of the exterior sphere allow it to reflect the laser at precisely the same angle each time it is struck (

The engineer on this product had to follow a design process, which included many steps. Among them were defining the characteristics of a successful design, brainstorming ideas, figuring out how the idea would work, creating a conceptual design of the product, identifying what parts would be needed to accomplish the task, and making sure that the parts worked together to keep time. Also the engineer in charge of this specific piece had to keep in mind the principles of both accuracy and precision in order to design an effective timekeeper. The visual design of the metronome included the principles of balance, rhythm and unity. The piece has radial balance because it is symmetric about the sphere’s center. The design displays rhythm in the evenly spaced bars around the exterior sphere and has a sense of unity because it has one unifying center point and all the shapes are similarly rounded. Also of important note are two major principles of engineering that are used in this product; precision and accuracy. Precision is the principle of repeatability, which effectively means how well a desired effect can be repeated over and over again. Precision is important to this product because without it each interval of time might be measured differently, making the product unable to perform either of its intended purposes, as it would not be able to measure time or keep rhythm. Accuracy describes how close a measurement is to its real value. Accuracy is important to this device because the tiny measurements this device will be making require an impeccable level of accuracy.

Now, imagine it is the year 2020. Scientific research is booming; new discoveries occur every day in every field. We have colonies on the Moon and are starting one on Mars, and a new particle accelerator is capable of consistently producing controlled black holes. However, none of this would be possible without proper timing. If the shuttle’s engines turned on even a tiny fraction of a second before the shuttle’s supports released themselves from the shuttle, it could result in catastrophic destruction. If we did not accurately record the longevity of the most recent black hole, then when we discover a way to make a longer-lived black hole we could drop the electromagnetic control field too early, once again resulting in catastrophic destruction. These instances of crucial precision and accurate timing aren’t just necessary in the future either; there are many cases today that, without proper timing, could end terribly. For this reason, such a product as the pictured metronome/high-speed timer is crucial to the world of engineering, the world of sciences, and even the world as a whole.


Works Cited

"Imagine That! Engineering Innovation Essay Contest." 2009. The National Academy of Engineering. 25 Feb 2009 <>.
"metronome." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Feb. 2009 <>.