Case Studies

Andre Luiten

Challenging the theory of time

The University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) in collaboration with BAE Systems in Australia are helping to develop the world’s most accurate clock which will be used to test the foundation theories of physics.

IPAS researchers are currently working on a project with BAE Sytems to build a new generation laser with ten times higher performance than any existing device.

The stable laser will be integral in improving the performance of current optical atomic clocks – accurate to 1 second within 16 billion years. The new cryogenic clock will be used to measure Einstein’s prediction of gravitational time dilation and also to drive Earth’s most precise clock, in Syrte, France.

IPAS Director, Professor Andre Luiten said that to achieve this goal, researchers required highly specialised optical cubes that would be at the heart of the laser system.

“BAE Systems in Adelaide is the only manufacturer in Australia capable of the high precision silicon machining required for this leading edge technology,” said Professor Luiten.

“We worked with BAE specialists who were able to fabricate the Si spacer cube to the delicate proportions required and perform the optical bonding of high-reflectivity mirrors to the cube.

“Working with a local company has allowed the researchers to discuss the best approaches to fabrication and to determine tolerances that minimised fabrication costs, whilst meeting requirements.”

The new cryogenic clock will be over 50 times more accurate than atomic clocks that exist today.

Peter Whitteron from BAE Systems Photonics Group said a clock with this extreme accuracy would prove useful beyond telling the time.

“This level of accuracy can be used in fields such as earthquake predictions, synchronisation of the many kilometres of underwater fibre optical communication networks and global positioning systems (GPS).  For example, GPS determines a user’s location by measuring how long it takes the signal from the satellite to travel to a particular location. The more accurate the clock, the more accurate is the capability to pinpoint the user’s location.”

Peter said the team spent more than 12 months working with the IPAS researchers creating the advanced optical cubes.

“It has been an amazing experience to be part of the team creating a new and advanced form of technology that will have an impact on people’s daily lives”.

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