BYU and CU Alumni Master’s Thesis 50th Anniversary is Celebrated in IEEE UFFC Special Issue
David W. Allan’s life as a Latter-day Saint has been instrumental in his becoming world-famous in his field of atomic clocks, which are used widely throughout the earth. His name is mentioned more than any other by those responsible for providing official time for the USA and for the world, a crucial ingredient in GPS navigation. Now, as the 15 papers in this special issue show, his approach in characterizing the variations in atomic clocks is being used in many other fields. His recent book “It’s About Time” shows that his approach can be used to characterize the changes in almost all natural phenomena.
David W. Allan graduated from BYU with his bachelors in Physics in May of 1960. From there, with his wife and daughter he headed to the University of Colorado to pursue a doctorate, with the intent of coming back to teach and do research at BYU. But it seems the Lord had different plans for David in Boulder — much bigger than he had imagined. He did not realize, then, that he was destined to become a foremost leader in the world of international time-keeping, with his algorithms and timing techniques forming the backbone of what now all of modern civilization takes for granted in applications such as GPS positioning. David’s work has contributed significantly in helping to bring about an accuracy improvement of a billion in the nearly 56 years he has been involved. Now his work is being used in many other fields as well, as one can see in this special issue, which just came out on the 4th of April 2016
David will receive the highest award IEEE gives at an international meeting (International Frequency Control Symposium) in New Orleans, LA, on the 10th of May for his life-long contributions.
His citation reads, “For seminal work to the UFFC community regarding time determination, time prediction, time dissemination and timekeeping through contributions to atomic frequency standards, space-based navigation, time and frequency stability analysis, time-scale algorithms, and timekeeping devices.”
He helped in the development of GPS. When you are measuring the time it takes a signal to travel from four different satellites — at the speed of light — you have to have near one-billionth of a second accuracy to resolve your position to within a few feet. The Allan variance was used to characterize the atomic clocks on board the satellites to make sure they were good enough.
While he was pursuing his Masters degree, he was also working full-time with atomic clocks in the Time and Frequency Division of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST — the National Institute of Standards and Technology), while teaching and taking courses at the university, and raising a young family. In this all-consuming context, he was called into a bishopric. Before accepting the call, he asked if he could take some time to make the decision. He entered into an intense fasting and prayer mode. Into the fourth day the Spirit impressed upon him that this call was in preparation for a call to serve as Bishop, and that it was the Lord’s call. A year later, he was called to be the bishop of the newly organized Boulder 2nd Ward.
Putting his trust in God, he soon found increased inspiration in his work on his Master’s Thesis, which grappled with how to measure variations in atomic clocks, where algorithms at the time were woefully inadequate to handle. From that early experience, he learned that God was available to help, not just in Church matters, but in professional matters as well. Given his significant contributions, his religious beliefs were well respected by his colleagues, who sometimes humorously referred to him as the “praying physicist.”
Out of his master’s thesis evolved what the world knows as the “Allan variance.” His thesis was published in the February 1966 Proceedings of the IEEE, and is reported to have been cited more than any other publication that has ever come out of the Department of Commerce.
Three years later, in 1968, he was awarded the Department of Commerce Silver Medal “for contributions to the NBS atomic time scales and the understanding of the statistics of atomic frequency standards.”
In 1984, while he was serving as the Boulder LDS Stake President, a position he held for 10 years, he was the second person to receive the annual I.I. Rabi Award by the IEEE, Rabi, who first thought of the atomic clock and received a Nobel Prize in physics for his work, was the first to receive the prize named after him. The IEEE is the largest scientific publishing house in the world. Today, the list of recipients reads like a Who’s Who of international time-keeping, including five Nobel laureates.
Then, in 2011, nearly 20 years after he retired from NIST, working independently as a consultant, David was given the “Time Lord Award” in Edinburgh, Scotland, by the International Telecom Sync community, recognizing his development of the Time Variance, which is used to characterize the performance of telecom networks throughout the world and it also became an international standard.
Their citation reads:
“The Allan Variance is perhaps the most famous of David Allan’s achievements, with its derivative for telecom: TDEV, the Time Deviation. He ‘wrote the book’ on the methods for characterising clocks and time and frequency distribution systems and the statistical variance he introduced is named after him.
David Allan is as well recognized in the field of time and frequency technology as any other figure in the world. He has been a major figure in the world of Time and Frequency since the 70’s and 80’s when he led the NBS (National Bureau of Standards, since renamed NIST– National Institute of Standards) developments of the time scale measurement system and algorithm which are still used as among the best in the world.
His achievements are historically numerous and international, and he continues to this day to be an active leader with a number of recent contributions. David has been honoured as a major contributor throughout Europe, the USA, Russia and the former Soviet Union, and in China. His current work is on an oven-less quartz oscillator that performs as an atomic clock, and his new Unified Field Theory.”
When David chose to accept the church calling, given all that was on his platter, he felt he could not give the Church the time they deserved and still pursue a doctorate, so he opted out of the doctorate path to serve the Lord. His masters thesis reviewers remarked, “What are you going to do for an encore?” And indeed, the strength of that thesis has given David the needed prestige to repeatedly speak in front rooms full of PhDs. And they even don’t seem to mind when he gives God the credit for his inspiration, even though the scientific world in general is typically unreligious. Around 93% of the major scientists in America considered themselves agnostic or atheist in a 1990s survey.
At David’s invitation, the principal time-keeper for Russia, Dr. Nickolay Koshelyaevsky, read the Book of Mormon. He was deeply touched by the phrase in Alma 30:8, “time only is measured unto men.” Nick became a very good friend and ended up joining the Church. David and his sweetheart and wife, Edna, were able to take him – as the first Russian – to take out his endowments in the Hawaiian Temple. [Ensign, January, 1993] Nick, as an organizer, invited David to be a plenary speaker for an International Symposium on Time and Space held in Suzdal, Russian in September 2014.
David felt inspired to write a book titled, It’s About Time, distilling his life learning and understandings of time, why we are here on earth, and where we are going both from a scientific as well as spiritual perspective. In the book, he shares experimental evidence for a fifth dimension (the Eternity Domain). In fact, his book brings a grand harmony between science and religion – helping to bring as many as will to Christ while countering the secular and materialistic encroachment on Christianity and the world. He finished the book in August 2014 and updated it in 2016. He hopes it will be appreciated by scientists, lay people, Christians, non-Christians, and agnostics/atheists — something for everyone.
He tackles health issues, threats to freedom, false traditions; and he presents a new unified field theory as well. He believes it is a book for the new millennium. He also uses the book to present a way for his colleagues to improve GPS accuracy by as much as another 100-fold.
Most importantly, he points to this time in which we live historically as being the most exciting time in the history of the planet. It is a majorly pivotal time — a time to make a firm stand for goodness and to hearken to the voice of the God of this Land, who is Jesus the Christ.
He hopes that the success he has realized as a scientist can help promote the other concepts which have been so important in his life and that have enabled his successes. The main ones for him are to trust in the Lord and to be filled with His love.