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Cryogenic Sapphire Clock

Timing precision is critical to many sensing, communication and computational applications. The need for very high timing precision reaches its pinnacle in radar technology, very long baseline (VLBI) radio astronomy and quantum computing.

The Sapphire Clock, developed by Prof Andre Luiten and his group, is a cryogenic sapphire oscillator that allows time to be measured to the femtosecond scale (one quadrillionth of a second): equivalent to only gaining or losing a single second over 40 million years.

In recent times, the extremely high performance of the oscillator has found a practical and strategic application in Australian Defence by improving the performance of a key asset, the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar Network (JORN). JORN is a multi-billion dollar linchpin of Australia’s defence surveillance that monitors air and sea movements across 37,000 km2; playing a vital role in supporting the Australian Defence Force’s air and maritime operations, border protection, disaster relief and search and rescue operations.

Radar works by broadcasting highly complex radio or microwave signals from a transmitter. If these emitted signals intercept an object then part of the signal may be reflected back to a receiver antenna. These reflected signals contain information on the location, speed and size of the object. However, the performance of the radar is critically dependent on the purity and quality of the signals that are broadcast: if one can broadcast noiseless signals then will be possible to detect smaller objects that are further away and which are moving slower. This additional surveillance power is critically important in a defence context by providing additional insight.

The sapphire oscillator offers performance more than 1000 times better (in the relevant ranges) than the current technology used by JORN. The early tests of the device were so convincing that Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group researchers believe that they are likely to obtain a significant lift in radar sensitivity.

In addition to the remarkable Sapphire Clock, the team has developed two additional technologies that deliver purer signals for JORN, and which thus assist Australian defence to be better able to observe threats to Australia. First, the team has developed ultra-low noise synthesis technology that can take the clock signals and generate the frequencies that are needed by the radar: it can do this while preserving the signal purity of the clock. Second, the team has developed signal dissemination technology, which enables them to deliver the pure signals through optical fibre to the numerous locations necessary to broadcast the JORN signals effectively. The range of technologies developed by the team provides the revolutionary leap in the performance in this outstanding Australian invention.

The Commonwealth has decided it will make use of the Sapphire Clock technology to support JORN through its $1.2B Project Air 2025 Phase 6 upgrade.

The Australian Defence Forces have invested more than $4M to drive the development up the technological readiness ladder as well as to supply 3 units. Subject to a successful demonstration in 2018, Defence will order a number of units to meet the needs of JORN. Additional strategic benefit is that this key technological advance has been underpinned by an Australian innovation, workforce and capability.

Learn more about the Sapphire Clock

High Power Durability of Soft Glasses for Laser Applications

Prof Heike Ebendorff- Heidepriem and Associate Professor Martin O’Connor have received funding from the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research to investigate the fundamental limit of achievable laser power for mid-infrared transmitting soft glasses. The project focuses on four different glass types using established glass compositions and fabrication procedures developed at IPAS: fluoroindate, fluorozirconate, germanate and tellurite; with the aim to develop a range of new high gain doped materials towards enabling the realisation of new laser and amplifier systems with enhanced operating parameters.

Learn more about Soft Glasses for Laser Applications

Click here to see the cold atoms being loaded into our hollow-core fibre

Fibre-Based Quantum Memory for Secure Communications

Cyber security is one of Australia's national security priorities - Australia's national security, economic prosperity and social wellbeing rely on the availability, integrity and confidentiality of a range of information and communications technology.

The development of cutting-edge quantum technologies such as quantum computing and quantum key distribution has critical implications for the secure transmission of information.

Combining our novel atom-filled hollow-core fibres with state-of-the-art quantum information storage protocols, we are creating a compact, robust and modular “quantum node” - the key ingredient to developing an optical fibre-based network for provably-secure communications.

Learn more about Fibre-Based Quantum Memory

Upconversion Fluorescence for Real-time Stand-off Detection and Identification of Explosives

IPAS members have received funding from Defence Industry & Innovation to research a potentially transformative technology for stand-off real-time explosives sensing.

There are currently no robust, rapid technologies suitable for application in the field for real-time detection and identification of explosives at stand-off ranges of 10 m or more. Other technologies exist, such as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy or Raman spectroscopy, but all have limitations that impact their efficacy and potential for real-world deployment.

The team is using leading-edge laser technology including mid-IR lasers developed at IPAS to explore upconversion fluorescence (UF) from explosives molecules, precursors and products, aiming to demonstrate the feasibility of UF for stand-off sensing, and define the required parameters for deployable UF explosives sensors.

This research leverages extensive investment by the Australian mining industry, through CRC ORE, which has created the globally leading UF research facility at IPAS.

Learn more about Upconversion Fluorescence

Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing

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