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The world’s most precise clock could make Australia safer

Scientists from the University of Adelaide have been awarded a prestigious Eureka Prize for the development of a clock that can do far more than tell the time.

The team won the Defence Science and Technology Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes recognise excellence in research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science. The winning clock is known as the Sapphire Clock, and is the result of twenty years of research on the part of South Australian scientists.

Officially known as the Cryogenic Sapphire Oscillator, it is 1000 times more precise than anything that exists commercially today. How precise is that? Well, in the next 40 million years, the Sapphire Clock will only lose or gain one second.

The clock will have more uses than just telling the time, as the pure ultra-low noise signal it generates may be useful in systems we use every day like GPS and radar navigation systems, which require accurate frequency and timing signals.

“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,” said Professor Andre Luiten, team leader and Director of the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, in a recent media release.

“The sensitivity to detect objects at great distances depends on the purity of the reference clock frequencies.”

The Sapphire Clock, with its incredible purity, can generate signals 1000 times more pure than the technology currently in use.

“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,” Professor Luiten said.

The Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing at the University of Adelaide and start-up company Cryoclock Pty Ltd are jointly responsible for creating this high-tech timepiece that has the potential to improve safety systems for Australia.

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