Quantum clocks

There is an increasing demand for more accurate and precise clocks, either to improve existing applications, or enable new ones. The Hub is researching the sensitivity of atomic clocks, increasing their accuracy to being better than one second over the age of the universe.

A range of portable and robust clocks are being made for different markets using holographic technology and complex laser systems. These methods will improve the accuracy, long-term stability, volume and power consumption.

These range from low cost, compact and robust clocks to ones that comply with international standards. In addition to fundamental research, they will have applications in navigation, communications and banking.

Quantum clocks will be used for:

  • Next generation satellite navigation
  • High-speed internet
  • Deep space communication and navigation
  • Time-stamping of financial transactions
  • Long-baseline interferometry in astronomy
  • Resilient timing for the smart grid

Concept illustration featuring clock with moving hands in outer space

Key objectives

Atomic clocks are a shining example of the power that technology based on atomic physics can have. In the last decades, using atoms laser cooled to the microKelvin regime – just millionths of a degree above absolute zero – the sensitivity of atomic clocks has increased to now being better than one second over the age of the universe.

The Clocks project within the Sensors and Metrology Hub is developing a range of portable and robust atomic clocks. The first of these, being developed at the University of Strathclyde, is using holographic technology to generate the most simple and robust optics package for a cold-atom clock. This clock, with a total volume of less than a litre, will improve on the state-of-the-art commercial atomic clock in accuracy, long-term stability, volume and power consumption. A second project, at the University of Birmingham, is utilising more complex laser systems to build an ‘optical clock’ that will have a thousand times higher precision in a larger device. The Birmingham clock will actually be more precise than the current definition of the second!

These two projects are covering a range of markets and needs, from the low cost and robust to international standards, and will have applications including next-generation satellite navigation, high-speed internet, time-stamping of financial transactions and navigation, in addition to fundamental research.