Sussex scientists one step closer to a clock that could replace GPS and Galileo. Scientists in the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough to a crucial element of an atomic clock – devices which could reduce our reliance on satellite mapping in the future – using cutting-edge laser beam technology.
Their development greatly improves the efficiency of the lancet (which in a traditional clock is responsible for counting), by 80% – something which scientists around the world have been racing to achieve.
Currently, the UK is reliant on the US and the EU for the satellite mapping that many of us have on our phones and in our cars. That makes UK vulnerable not only to the whims of international politics, but also to the availability of satellite signal.
“With a portable atomic clock, an ambulance, for example, will be able to still access their mapping whilst in a tunnel, and a commuter will be able to plan their route whilst on the underground or without mobile phone signal in the countryside. Portable atomic clocks would work on an extremely accurate form of geo-mapping, enabling access to your location and planned route without the need for satellite signal.
“Our breakthrough improves the efficiency of the part of the clock responsible for counting by 80%. This takes us one step closer to seeing portable atomic clocks replacing satellite mapping, like GPS, which could happen within 20 years. This technology will changes people’s everyday lives as well as potentially being applicable in driverless cars, drones and the aerospace industry. It’s exciting that this development has happened here at Sussex.”
Optical atomic clocks are at the pinnacle of time measuring devices, losing less than one second every ten billion years. Curently though, they are massive devices, weighing hundreds of kilograms. In order to have an optimal practical function that could be utilised by your average person, their size needs to be greatly reduced whilst retaining the accuracy and speed of the large-scale clocks.
(Release by Univ. of Sussex)