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Winter 2013 Issue
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A perfect measure of success

The University's new chair of experimental physics has moved to Adelaide with his research team to pursue atomtronics - cutting-edge new technology to make super sensitive instruments.

In Andre Luiten's complex world of ultra-sensitive precision instruments you could well argue that small means big - very big.

Develop clocks and oscillators with unbelievable levels of accuracy down to the tiniest degree and you have the means to test the very foundations of modern physics and our grasp of the cosmos.

It sounds out of this world and the new Chair of Experimental Physics and head of the Precision Measurements Group Professor Luiten is certainly not interested in half measures.

The award-winning scientist has relocated to the University of Adelaide from Western Australia with just about his entire team to continue his groundbreaking work in partnership with Professor Tanya Monro, Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS).

The relocation was made possible with the support of a $1 million South Australian Research Fellowship.

The seven scientists who have moved from the University of Western Australia - some with families - have brought with them $2 million of testing equipment and combined grant funding of an additional of $1.5 million.

Professor Luiten, who is also Theme Leader of the Novel Light Sources science theme within IPAS, says the state funding and new state-of-the-art laboratories in The Braggs building will enable his team to take its research to another exciting level.

"I always felt we were very isolated in Perth so being part of a larger entity will allow us to translate our research into something of practical benefit for humanity," he said.

"The work of Professor Monro in IPAS is very complementary to ours so together we can do some really great things."

Professor Luiten's research group is involved in wide- ranging laser technologies to allow incredibly accurate measurements never previously possible - and with instruments small enough to fit in your pocket.

The work cuts across multiple industries and has the capacity to revolutionise technologies such as radar, provide ultra-sensitive detection of trace gases for industrial or medical applications, and build small ultra- high performance clocks.

A key focus area is the emerging technology of atomtronics - a new way of manipulating ultra cold matter to make super sensitive measurements.

This may all sound rather esoteric, but consider GPS - technology which just about everyone now uses in their smartphones and navigation devices, and which has provided huge economic benefits.

It's a system which could not work without precision measurements - in this case, highly accurate atomic clocks.

Among his credits Professor Luiten has developed a sapphire oscillator microwave clock accurate to an incredible one second every 100 million years.

The instrument was used to make the most sensitive test yet of one of the founding theories of modern physics - Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

It's groundbreaking work which has seen Professor Luiten recognised both nationally and internationally.

In 1997 he won the Bragg Gold Medal for Physics for the best PhD thesis by a student from an Australian university and he was the inaugural WA Young Scientist of the Year. He is also an ARC Future Fellow and the recipient of a NIST Precision Measurement Grant, the first time the prize has ever been awarded outside North America.

"A major thrust of our work with IPAS is to translate the outcomes of the laboratory into everyday society," he said. "That's something that's really quite special and one of the reasons we chose to come here".

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