The ultrahigh-vacuum chamber of an optical clock operated by the National Metrology Institute of Germany. Inside the chamber, strontium atoms are cooled by a laser.
The ultrahigh-vacuum chamber of an optical clock operated by the National Metrology Institute of Germany. Inside the chamber, strontium atoms are cooled by a laser. Credit: National Metrology Institute of Germany

I promise, we didn’t plan this entire issue just so I could write “Birds in Backpacks Doing Science” in the table of contents—that was a lucky bonus. Clever theories, creative partnerships, and crunching numbers are all important parts of the scientific process, but sometimes you need to get down to the nuts and bolts. That’s why this month in Eos, we highlight some of the innovative hardware solutions scientists are developing to get their research done.

We start with a feature by Collin P. Ward, who discusses how low-cost, energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are changing ocean research. Advanced LED technology can do a lot more than shed light on a subject; it can also provide wireless communication connecting fleets of autonomous research vehicles—and that’s only the beginning. Click over to read more about the wide array of benefits to science, including lowering the barrier for participation, that we could realize by embracing these sensors.

Optical clocks “have demonstrated at least a 100-fold improvement in accuracy over the usual atomic clocks.”

In our second feature, researchers describe the serious hardware needed to pursue new geodetic techniques rooted in quantum mechanics. On this month’s cover, take a look at the strontium lattice optical clock operated by the National Metrology Institute of Germany. Optical clocks “have demonstrated at least a 100-fold improvement in accuracy over the usual atomic clocks,” write Michel Van Camp and colleagues—read on to learn more about this and other cutting-edge technologies for measuring the shape, rotation, and gravity of our planet.

Finally, we get to science by the birds—cormorants, to be exact. Rachael A. Orben and colleagues write about the Cormorant Oceanography Project. They developed an advanced biologging tag technique that harnesses these coastal birds to take low-cost oceanographic measurements. The cormorants travel along the western coast of North America between British Columbia and Baja California, diving deep below the surface in pursuit of food. The tags are developed to have a negligible impact on the birds’ behavior and use cell phone tech to transmit large amounts of data. Gathering observations from the cormorants could be one way to avoid the high cost of surveys from oceanographic vessels or autonomous underwater vehicles.

We also look at how portable hubs are making use of “Internet of things” tech to help farmers and fishers in India, integrating echolocation into autonomous cars, and much more in this issue dedicated to the folks who, when faced with a problem, reach for a screwdriver.

—Heather Goss (@heathermg), Editor in Chief, Eos

Citation: Goss, H. (2021), Build it, and the science will comeEos, 102, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO210676. Published on 20 December 2021.