DIFFRACT - Integrated Distributed Feedback Lasers for Cold Atom Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


This Innovate UK project is aimed at developing compact DFB lasers at 780.24 nm that are locked using a MEMS Rb cavity and an interferometer to an atomic transition in 87Rb atoms. The system is the basis for atomic clocks, inertial
sensors, rotation sensors, quantum navigators, magnetometers and electrometers. The project pulls together the University of Glasgow and the University of Birmingham with the UK companies M Squared Lasers, Kelvin Nanotechnology and Optocap to build a UK supply chain for miniature lasers systems for practical and portable cold atom systems. The technology being developed can also be used for chip scale cold atom systems that ultimately could be in every mobile phone.

Planned Impact

Economic: The project outcomes will support the establishment of an entirely new industry over the next decade with major economic benefits up- and downstream. To calibrate the external economic benefits we can evaluate the impact along the value chains that will emerge from the project. The supply chains for the M Squared Lasers (MSL), Kelvin Nanotechnology (KNT) & Optocap's operations, including raw material, components & electronics will see an additional ~5 jobs created upstream from the partners over 5 years, around 90% of which are UK-based. The current QT supply network is necessarily global with specialised foreign vendors delivery high specification components to the community. The establishment of a strong UK supply chain in this area will bring much of these activities on shore as highly integrated systems based on components from preferred local suppliers will drive efficiency in the value chain. Within the consortium, where most value is being added, an expected 8 jobs at MSL will be created in the first 5 years, with a further 2 jobs at KNT and 1 at OPT. Downstream value creation will begin with research usage but soon gain wider reach as the DFBs are deployed in integrated sensing systems, both military and civilian. The applicability of low-cost inertial measurement and timing hardware to navigation systems has the potential to deliver major benefits for transport infrastructure of all types, with penetration increasing in inverse proportion to the overall costs.

Social: There are a number of social benefits that cold atom technologies will enable over the next decades. High sensitivity electromagentic sensors will deliver a step change in medical diagnostic capabilities. Imaging techniques with
cellular resolution is a short-medium term development goal that will benefit from compact automated laser hardware. With multiple DFB units required for each device and a potential deployment in all major healthcare centres, the scale of opportunity and relevance of this project are significant. As the denial of GPS has been predicted to cost the UK tax payer 8% of UK GDP overnight, the development of a robust and resilient navigation system that does not rely on GPS will aid the security of the UK and make the economy more resilient to terrorist or criminal attacks.

Environmental: There will be groundbreaking advances in earth observation, particularly in the measurement of water distribution, where monitoring of the water table can be crucial in parts of the world where water shortages are prevalent or where unregulated private bore-holes affect the local water table. The impact of natural disasters can be mitigated through improved monitoring of flood alerts and also seismic activity for geological movement and earthquake, volcano and tsunami predictions. In 2011, the Tohoku earthquake resulted in 20,000 deaths and massive economic losses. Estimated cost for the clean up operation in Fukusima Daiici is expected to exceed $250bn.


10 25 50
Description We have been able to develop a prototype of an integrated DFB laser with stabilisation, which is a central underpinning technology for cold atom quantum technology devices.
Exploitation Route We are in discussion with companies to make this laser into a product.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Transport

Description We are indiscussion with companies about making the findings into a product.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education
Impact Types Economic