Precise timing is crucial for range of applications. In the UK, about ten per cent of critical services – from aviation to communications – depends on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) such as GPS. This means a sudden loss of GNSS would put a more than £1 billion-a-day dent in the economy.

Illustration of clocks representing quantum clocks researchGNSS receivers are vulnerable to jamming and spoofing and satellites can even be blown up by solar flares, and GNSS is not available underwater, underground or deep in mountain ranges.

Dr Yeshpal Singh and his team at the University of Birmingham are building a quantum clock that is not only super-accurate; it could also give the UK independence from GNSS.

The underpinning technology is the cooling of atoms to ultralow temperatures – as close to absolute zero as possible. What is different about Yeshpal’s research is that it doesn’t require cryogenics (the production and behaviour of materials at very low temperatures); it works at room temperature, relying on laser-atom interaction using internal and external degrees of freedom of atoms.

An important application for GPS in telecommunications is to provide synchronisation in wireless base stations, which depends on timing to operate correctly. In these applications, what’s known as ‘holdover’ is used in base stations to ensure continued operation when GPS is unavailable.

Within the ‘eco system’ of the Quantum Hub for Sensors and Metrology, Yeshpal and his team are working with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and more than 70 industry partners, including BT, Chronoss, Te2v, M2, BAE Systems, Leonardo, Torr Scientific and UnikLasers.

Pull-out quote: ‘What we are doing here in Birmingham is translating quantum concepts into real-world applications – and timing is one of them. There are lab-based quantum clocks that exist, but our programme is aimed at low SWaPC (size, weight and power with cost-effectiveness) and in-field deployable. It is a flagship programme in its own right.’

These clocks will provide crucial resilience mechanism in a world overly reliant on GNSS networks which faces multiple threats, from malicious attacks like jamming, spoofing or state aggression, to rare but real perils like solar flares and space weather. Data suggests the economic impact of a UK GNSS disruption could be as much as £5.2 billion over a five day period, including on emergency services, road logistics and the maritime industry.


Find out more

To read more about quantum clocks research, please follow the link below:

UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Metrology - Quantum clocks