Infleqtion installs UK’s ‘first’ commercial optical atomic clock

Infleqtion the quantum technology systems developer previously known as ColdQuanta, says it has recently completed the first sale and commercial delivery of an optical atomic clock within the UK.

The US-headquartered firm’s “Tiqker” unit, which features a frequency-doubled laser emitting at 778 nm, is being installed in a laboratory at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

Professor Erling Riis and his research team will use the system for precision timekeeping and navigation research, with Infleqtion describing the development as “a historic milestone” as the first sale and commercial delivery of any optical atomic clock within the UK.

“The Infleqtion Tiqker represents a step-change for us in our work developing and characterizing miniaturized clocks based on both hot and laser-cooled atoms,” said Riis in an Inlfeqtion release.

National timing infrastructure
Riis explains that researchers have typically been limited by the phase noise of the oscillator driving the atomic transitions, adding that Tiqker represents by far the lowest phase noise oscillator the laboratory has for referencing purposes.

It is set to be fully integrated into efforts that will complement facilities at the UK National Physical Laboratory’s (NPL) National Timing innovation “node”, which was recently established at the University of Strathclyde.

Leon Lobo, who heads up the NPL-led National Timing Centre (NTC) effort, added: “The global supply chain for time, frequency and synchronization components is sparse, and urgently needs addressing.

“The Tiqker clock will help bring diversity to this supply chain, potentially supporting resilience for our digital infrastructure, underpinned by time.”

The NTC and NPL Quantum efforts are aiming to develop the UK’s first nationally distributed timing infrastructure, as well as new measurement capabilities to support the development of quantum technologies.

Part of the thinking behind that program is to enable the UK to reduce its reliance on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), while also driving research and development into future timekeeping technologies.

Potential beneficiaries of enhanced time and frequency signals include smart electrical grids, time-critical 5G and 6G applications, and connected autonomous vehicles.

The University of Strathclyde is also a key element of the so-called “time and frequency innovation node”, which is aiming to distribute signals traceable to NPL’s national time scale to users across Scotland.

Flight test
Another application in the defense realm would be to create a device that can provide accurate navigation without relying on GPS, thereby sidestepping any attempts by an adversary to disrupt GPS signals.

Last month Infleqtion said that one of its Tiqker clocks was deployed on a test flight alongside a quantum sensing system based on ultracold atoms.

That test was part of an £8 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) project intended to create quantum sensors to address the UK’s heavy reliance on GNSS/GPS for location, navigation, and timing data.

This dependence creates a vulnerability, as a single point of failure (like jamming or spoofing GPS signals) could disrupt critical economic, defense, and strategic activities, explained Andrew Griffith, the UK’s science minister at the time.

As well as Infleqtion, that UKRI consortium features the Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics, Alter Technology UK, Caledonian Photonics, Redwave Labs, PA Consulting, BAE Systems, and QinetiQ.