The Sapphire Clock

The gravity wave research group at the University of Western Australia developed the only clock in the world stable enough to allow atomic clocks to reach their ultimate precision. These are required for the International Space Station and for the next generation of precision GPS navigational systems as a source for a radio-astronomy technique termed Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). VLBI requires a very stable oscillator at each observation site so that observations at many remote sites can be coherently combine together. These combined observations essentially yield the same data as would be observed from a single huge radio-telescope that is the same size as the distance between the observation sites. The clock, which uses pure crystals of synthetic sapphire, is being developed for the above applications funded by and in collaboration with the French LPTF laboratory of CNRS in Paris. Gravity wave detection provided the technology which allowed detectors of the necessary sensitivity to be created. Today the project has been commercialized under contract with UWA.   The postdoctoral and academic staff that was mostly responsible for these developments has formed an independent group called the Frequency Standards and Frequency Metrology Research Group (FSM).