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Cold-atom source for commercial matter-wave gravimeters

PI: Christopher Foot

Department: Physics

Beams of atoms moving through a region of ultrahigh vacuum are used for extremely precise measurements. For example, caesium atomic clocks have been the primary standards of time in national laboratories world-wide since the 1960s. A new generation of devices have been developed in laboratories that use lasers to drive transitions in the atoms rather than microwaves as in the caesium clocks. (The laser was invented around 1960.) In addition to precise timekeeping, the new quantum technologies improve measurements of rotation, gravity and the gradient of gravity. The current emphasis in this field is on designing and engineering these instruments so that they can be used outside the laboratory environment in key applications such as surveying and navigation. Gravimeters based on matter waves can be used to detect underground voids before construction, and improved gyroscopes will meet the needs of civilian and military navigation.

We have developed a compact source of cold rubidium atoms that is very suitable for transportable atom interferometers and a prototype will be demonstrated in collaboration with a laser company in the UK. In this project we will refine the design further and streamline the method of manufacturing to make our cold-atom source a highly competitive product in the emerging market for next-generation quantum technology. This work relies on many decades of experience in building atomic beams in Oxford Physics and the expertise in laser technology at M Squared Lasers.

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