A project to develop a miniature laser cooled cold atom source has been granted funding by Innovate UK in a recent call for proposals on commercialisation of quantum technologies.
The £364,000 project, called Freeze-Ray, will run from July 2015 until September 2016. It will aim to develop a practical and commercial laser source and vacuum system for application of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics winning discovery that lasers can cool atoms to extremely low temperatures.
Lead partner, Gooch and Housego, will engineer a miniature high power fibre laser at its Torquay-based System Technology Group (STG). E2v is developing miniature vacuum systems in which the atoms will be trapped by the laser light, while the University of Birmingham will conduct laser cooling tests on rubidium atoms.
At very low temperatures atoms exhibit special properties. These can be used to create extremely accurate time standards and gyroscopes which will greatly improve the accuracy of GPS and inertial navigation systems. They can also be used to create sensitive magnetometers and gravimeters, which will lead to more accurate, less costly and more environmentally friendly resource exploration.
However, practical systems must be developed which can move laboratory demonstrations to real environments, such as on-board ships, submarines and satellites. The system being developed in the Freeze-Ray project will help to achieve this.
G&H's Systems Technology Group (STG) will be developing a fibre laser emitting greater than 1W at 780nm. This will be accompanied by a high performance polarisation maintaining (PM) fibre splitter network with collimators, designed to integrate with the miniature vacuum system.
‘Freeze-Ray is an important project for the STG, demonstrating our ability to combine photonic packaging, photonic device miniaturisation and laser manufacturing,’ said Andrew Robertson, head of the STG. ‘The commercial applications for the technology will further strengthen G&H’s position of providing effective photonic engineering solutions.’
E2v Technologies will develop a compact, high performance vacuum chamber with an integrated magneto optical trap. The Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre at the University of Birmingham will be demonstrating the system in atom cooling experiments.