Background of the Research Program of the ITN

Research in the fields of precision spectroscopy, quantum optics and cold atoms, honored by the Physics Nobel Prizes 1989, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2012 has triggered a new era in precision measurements and quantum metrology. One eminent example of new instrument is the optical atomic clock. Atomic clocks operating at microwave frequencies are well-established and have already shown their usefulness in a variety of application, especially for satellite-based navigation (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) and in communication networks.

In optical atomic clocks it is a (laser) electromagnetic wave that “ticks”. However it beats 1015 times per second instead of 1010 as in microwave clocks. The progress in the performance of laboratory prototypes has been spectacular - the best inaccuracy and best instability are now both smaller than 1×10-17 and still progressing, thanks to world-wide efforts. While these instruments will surely have many applications, a few are already emerging: geodesy (measurement of the gravitational potential of the Earth) and tests of fundamental physics.

So far, optical clocks are mainly confined to a handful of advanced labs and it is important to develop robust system for general use and in particular also for applications in space.

This ITN addresses all of the issues in moving towards space optical clocks by covering every aspect ranging from atomic references and ultra-stable lasers to frequency combs, precision frequency distribution and commercial system technology. It focuses on technological developments enhancing the technology readiness level of the new optical atomic clocks, enhancing the chance that they will become industrially produced instruments.

In fact, FACT benefits from links to the EU-FP7 project “Space Optical Clocks” (www.soc2.eu) and the ESA candidate mission “SOC”, a lattice optical clock on the ISS (http://sci.esa.int/ste-quest/), which provides resources for the respective technology developments and offers exposure of the ERS group to the field of space technology. The space industry side is also represented by our partner companies Kayser Threde and Kayser Italia.

FACT will prepare a new generation of young experts in precision atomic technology.