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UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing researchers standing alongside Professor Hidetoshi Katori

The International Clock and Oscillator Networking (ICON) project – launched in 2021 with £1.5m of funding at the University of Birmingham-led UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing – reached a key milestone with the arrival of Professor Hidetoshi Katori (University of Tokyo) last week to collectively test and validate world-leading transportable optical clocks, which will help pave the way for standardised time across the world.

The ICON project, which partners with the University of Nottingham, NPL, Riken, University of Tokyo, University of Düsseldorf, PTB (Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt) and the Technical University Munich, and is led by Professor Yeshpal Singh, aims to bring together the best international transportable optical clocks and optical link space infrastructure to explore the limits of precision time transfer.

Professor Katori, who first developed the ground-breaking concept of the magic wavelength and lattice clocks, brought the University of Tokyo’s optical clock to launch the much-anticipated comparison testing with the optical clocks from Europe and UK via both space links (in Germany) and fibre link networks (in the UK). Professor Katori also delivered a much-anticipated colloquium in the evening of 8th March, hosted by the University of Birmingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, titled: Making Optical Lattice Clocks Compact and Useful for Real-World Applications.

The ICON project ultimately aims to compare optical clocks solely using space links at an unprecedented level – specifically 1×10-18 via international space station. Clock comparisons carried out over fibre link networks take significant time and resource to set up. Comparing optical clocks via space links is not a new concept, but the difficulty lies in the significant limitations in terms of how much can currently be measured.

One of the key end goals for this project is to develop space links capable of 1×10-18 which can facilitate optical clock comparative measurements at a global level, helping the test and validation process and thus paving the way for standardised time across the world.

I am excited about collaborating with UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing on ICON, a world leading project. We hope to share ideas on how new quantum clocks will change future society.”

Professor Hidetoshi Katori

“The ICON project is an exciting opportunity for collaboration with international experts, such as Professor Katori. Quantum clocks have wider applications beyond positioning, navigation and timing, and this project will pave the way in redefining the SI (second).”

Professor Yeshpal Singh