A network of clocks for measuring the stability of fundamental constants

Lead Research Organisation: National Physical Laboratory
Department Name: Time Quantum & Electromagnetic Division


We propose to create a world-leading programme to search for spatial and temporal variations of fundamental constants of nature, using a network of quantum clocks. Our consortium will build a community that will achieve unprecedented sensitivity in testing variations of the fine structure constant, alpha, and the proton-to-electron mass ratio, mu. This in turn will provide more stringent constraints on a wide range of fundamental and phenomenological theories beyond the Standard Model and on dark matter models. The ambition of the QSNET consortium will be enabled by a unique experimental platform that connects a number of complementary quantum sensors across the UK, namely state-of-the-art atomic clocks, molecular clocks, and a highly-charged ion clock. Key to the proposal is the networked approach in which clocks, with different sensitivities to changes of the fundamental constants, will be linked using optical fibres. The network involves a range of different quantum sensing devices and devices with different technology readiness levels: from the more established microwave atomic clocks on the one end to the highly-charged ion clock on the other. QSNET will be able to deliver important results in the first years, and at the same time develop advanced quantum sensors to provide increasingly impactful results as the project continues and the most sophisticated sensors come on line.

Planned Impact

QSNET will use quantum technologies to investigate fundamental physics, contributing to an area of research that is growing considerably in both relevance and scope. The search for physics beyond the Standard Model is an expanding field with huge potential for new discoveries. Our consortium will deliver results that are relevant in the fields of cold atoms and molecules, light matter interaction, optical communications, plasma and lasers, quantum device components and systems, quantum optics and information, particle physics, particle astrophysics, astrobiology, theoretical and phenomenological physics and will have a substantial impact on the expanding national and international academic community working on the whole range of these topics.

The dissemination of our results to the academic community will be mainly through high-impact scientific publications, seminars, talks and the organisation of a workshop. The academic community, as well as the general public, will also be informed about our progress by means of social media and a project-dedicated website. Additionally, we will showcase our ideas in public events.

The proposed project will contribute to developing the next generation of quantum technology, thus moving forward the frontiers for future applications. In this respect, the combination of technological solutions originating in quantum physics, gravitational wave detection, metrology and particle physics represents a unique opportunity for delivering impactful innovation. For this reason, we will exploit our connection with the QT Hubs and the national industries interested in quantum technology towards the concrete application of our ideas and methods and the securing of industrial patents.

By tackling new questions at the crossroad of many thematic areas, QSNET will contribute to the growth of the early stage researchers who will work on it. The recruited PDRAs will enlarge their technical toolboxes and sharpen the tools within while the PhD students will develop a large set of skills. They will work on unexplored problems that hold the promise of delivering long lasting breakthroughs. QSNET will thus help them develop experimental, analytical and numerical expertise that will be applicable in many professional contexts (from academia to finance and industry), thus propelling them to the next phase of their careers.