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University of Adelaide’s Precise Clock Wins Eureka Prize

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University of Adelaide's Precise Clock Wins Eureka Prize
The Sapphire Clock team at a JORN site (left to right) Waddah Al-Ashwal, André Luiten, Fred Baynes, Martin O’Connor and Matt Young from the High Frequency Radar Team, Defence Science and Technology Group

A University of Adelaide team of scientists has won one of the prestigious Eureka Prizes for science for the development of the world’s most precise clock.

The team won the Defence Science and Technology Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

The Cryogenic Sapphire Oscillator, otherwise known as the Sapphire Clock, is the result of more than two decades of pioneering research and is 1000 times more precise than any other commercial system; it is so precise it gains or loses only one second over 40 million years.
Developed by the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, and start-up company Cryoclock Pty Ltd, the Sapphire Clock generates an incredibly pure ultra-low noise signal.

Accurate frequency and timing signals are used in most electronic systems we use every day, including radar and GPS for navigation.

“With its unparalleled precision, the Sapphire Clock offers the potential for an upgrade of the Jindalee Over-The-Horizon Radar Network (JORN) system, which monitors aircraft and ships off Australia’s northern approaches,” says team leader Professor Andre Luiten, Director of the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.

“The sensitivity to detect objects at great distances depends on the purity of the reference clock frequencies. Our Sapphire Clock would allow JORN to generate signals that are 1000 times purer than its current technology.

“If JORN has access to better signals then it will be able to see smaller objects, travelling slower, at much greater distances – and that means keeping Australia safer.

“This is a perfect example of fundamental research in universities leading to high technology advances that benefit our nation.

“This work could not have been possible without the incredible support of Dr Gordon Frazer’s High Frequency Radar team within the Defence Science and Technology Group, along with the leadership of Associate Professor Martin O’Connor at the University of Adelaide.”

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in science in categories of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.

Two other University of Adelaide researchers were among the finalists: Dr Caitlyn Byrt (School of Agriculture, Food and Wine) was a finalist for Outstanding Early Career Researcher; and Adjunct Lecture Dr Samuel Drake (School of Physical Sciences) is part of the Causality team, which was also a finalist for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

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