Strontium COld atom package foR commercial oPtIcal clOcks

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


Cold atom devices for sensing and metrology are the closest to commercial exploitation. The science is for some
applications highly developed and offers unquestioned performance advantages in sensitivity and some steps have been
made at making more compact systems. But for genuine and widespread applications substantial improvements need to be
made in size, weight and power ('SWAP') and ruggedness of these systems.
The project SCORPIO is concerned with developing a component technology that forms the core of an optical lattice clock.
The physics packaged that enables a magneto optical trap (MOT) of strontium atoms is the central component in which
multi-stage cooling and lattice preparation provides the key elements for clock interrogation.
Optical lattice clocks use transitions in neutral atoms as quantum frequency references to deliver timing at very high levels of accuracy. This project forms a key part of the development of a commercial strontium clock, using techniques developed
in the creation of the world's most stable clocks.
The project will support the nucleation of a leading industrial capability for such future atomics packages and chamber
products, which will be UK based and also therefore benefit from non-ITAR status.
Our consortium of 2 partners has all of the critical expertise required to prosecute this project. It is led by the highly
innovative commercial partner MSL who have a proven track record in bringing novel, state of the art technology in high
quality lasers to market. University of Birmingham is leading of the UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and
Metrology, an £80M innovation project including 6 University and over 70 industry partners. As such it provides a number of
technology development specialists with expertise in optical clocks, gravity sensors and simulation packages in addition to
civil engineering expertise in the use of gravity sensors for underground mapping and links to potential commercial endusers.
By combining the vacuum technology with laser technology through to testing we will also be making unique steps towards
a significant step down in size, power and cost requirements of a future Sr based atomic clock.
To-date these components have been developed in isolation. It is important, however, to develop systems that can
integrate whilst following a similar ruggedisation and miniaturisation activities. This collaborative programme will develop a
clear supply chain of UK-based technology suitable for various applications ranging from satellite-free navigation, ultra-high
precision timing for financial trades and exceptionally-precise gravetometers for sub-surface detection.

Planned Impact

The project will create benefits for a number of users:
Benefits to Industry: A miniaturised atomics physics package will develop and utilise a number of key technology
components including: materials / coatings, vacuum chambers and pumps, laser systems, optics, control systems etc.
Whilst MSL are ideally positioned to manufacture and supply a number of these, they will also rely on key supply chain
partners to provide other components, such as the vacuum systems, optical interfaces etc.; thereby creating opportunities
and benefits for numerous technology supply chain companies. Furthermore, the scientific challenges and knowledge
addressed during the project will create opportunities for supply chain partners to develop their own unique technologies,
support differentiation, competitiveness and new business growth. The main output of the project will be a robust,
miniaturised, low power and low cost atomics package; representing a core sub-system component to numerous quantum
technology systems, such as atomic clocks, gravity sensors, magnetic
sensors etc.; which in turn become core components of platform systems such as: navigation systems, geo-physic sensors
for gravity mapping etc. Successful delivery of the project results thereby demonstrates the potential to benefit numerous
sensor / system integrators.
Quantum technology has the potential to demonstrate performance gains for a wide range of applications, such as defence
(navigation, tunnel detection, battlefield imaging), geophysics (oil prospecting, void / feature detection, utility mapping), civil
engineering (infrastructure mapping) etc. In the long term such systems will deliver highly disruptive solutions that: i) lead to
the creation of new markets; ii) satisfy currently un-met user needs; or iii) achieve performance gains far beyond existing
solutions. A particular focus of the project will be optical lattice clocks for space applications. The consortium will engage
with potential European and International end-users to: i) inform them about the features of quantum optical clocks; ii) to
explore potential end-use applications; and iii) to define a roadmap for take up and use. Early applications are anticipated
for navigation and GPS replacement (reduced reliance).
Benefits to Society:
Quantum technology is a disruptive technology with the potential to create new markets and business growth, leading to
UK employment, economic growth and wealth creation. The project represents an important step towards the development
of a key component / platform technology that will enable the realisation of these benefits / impacts. The target final
application for the project results are optical lattice clocks. Such atomic clocks demonstrate a wide range of benefits for
society including: reduced dependence on GPS (a major risk and concern for society); and enhanced navigation leading to
more efficient transport systems; to name but a few. Such benefits / impacts align with numerous National policy priorities,
such as security, smart cities and transport etc.


10 25 50
Description This project has contributed to defining and understanding the parameter space for lasers needed for optical clcoks.
Exploitation Route They will likely be commercialized.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Security and Diplomacy

Description This project has helped the partner company to develop a laser system and an experiment controller for specific use in optical clocks. There is no commerciasl product yet, but this is expected to happen.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Economic