The Atomics workpackage involves the design, fabrication, testing and integration of the components that will be assembled in the prototyping work packages into a range of high-precision sensors and clocks. Some of the components that we are developing – known as atom chips or ion chips – will be used to trap and control atoms and ions cooled to within a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. Lasers supplied by workpackages 1 and 3 will be used to cool the atoms and to make measurements on them.

Controlling the laser beams usually requires thousands of separate optical components like lenses, mirrors, and switches that split or recombine the beams. To miniaturise the sensors and make them portable we have to integrate these many components into compact optical circuits, analogous to electronic microchips containing billions of transistors.

The atom and ion chips use microfabricated wires or capacitors to create magnetic or electric fields, which hold the atoms or ions just above the chip surface and move them in order to measure very small forces. To ensure that the clouds of trapped atoms/ions can be held for long times, they, and the chips themselves, are held in ultra-high vacuum chambers in which the pressure is at least a million million times lower than atmospheric pressure.

Our key objectives are to develop these chambers and ensure that the chips, atoms, ions, and integrated optical components work well together inside them.

Anatomy of a quantum sensor