The University of Southampton

Southampton researcher takes to the national stage with his physics research

Published: 16 May 2014

University of Southampton Research Fellow Dr Matt Himsworth has been taking to the national stage to talk about his research into micro magneto-optical traps.

Matt joined fellow researchers from around the UK at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), in Teddington, to take part in The Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) event to bring to market the science behind the world’s most accurate atomic clocks and sensors.

The Quantum Timing, Navigation and Sensing Showcase aims to accelerate the exploitation of the weirder aspects of quantum mechanics for sensing, highly accurate time keeping and advanced GPS-independent navigation within the UK defence sector and wider industry.

Matt said: “It was a great honour to be among those selected to showcase their research at today’s high profile national event.”

During his presentation Matt explained to delegates about his Dstl-funded research into a cheaper, more efficient source of laser cooled atoms that can fit on a postage stamp.

He said: “We are investigating miniatuarising a magneto optical trap that uses laser cooling to produce samples of trapped, neutral atoms millions of times colder that the temperature of outer space. The atoms are then held within an ultra high vacuum where they form the very purest quantum system you can get, perfect for use in the most precise clocks and accelerators that have been developed for the field of navigation.

“However, reaching these cold temperatures is vital for the highest precisions. Whilst room temperature vapour atomic clocks lose one second of time every 10 to 11 seconds (around 3,000 years), the current laboratory based cold clocks can take this precision down by seven further orders of magnitude, a level which would see a clock maintain accuracy to within more than half a second since before the formation of Earth.”

The miniaturisation process led by Matt and his colleagues at Southampton has incorporated methods and materials from the semiconductor microfabrication industry which has helped make the system leak tight, whilst the vacuum chamber has been made over 1,000 times smaller.

These developments have enabled the team to take the suitcase scale equipment down to postage stamp sized set ups. They eventually aim to manufacture the systems onto microchips for use in personal handheld devices.

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