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Optical lattice clocks for fundamental physics and redefinition of the second

PhD Opportunities

Dr Rachel Godun , Prof C Foot Friday, June 18, 2021 Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
London United Kingdom Atomic Engineering Experimental Physics Optical Physics Quantum Mechanics

About the Project

The National Physical Laboratory and the University of Oxford are offering an EPSRC-funded PhD studentship in physics, working with some of the UK’s best atomic clocks. The clocks are based on strontium atoms, which are laser-cooled to a temperature of 1 µK, and then trapped in an optical-lattice dipole trap. The atoms are probed by an ultra-stable laser whose frequency is tuned to match an extremely narrow internal transition frequency in strontium. The laser thus “ticks” at a very precise frequency and these clocks can measure the passage of time to within an uncertainty of one part in 10^18 - enough to resolve the gravitational redshift from a change in height of just a few cm on the surface of the Earth. Already optical lattice clocks reach fractional frequency uncertainties more than 100 times better than the best caesium primary frequency standards. As a result, optical lattice clocks are a likely candidate for a future redefinition of the SI second. However, before such a redefinition can take place, it must be shown that these systems can be engineered to run reliably, and that frequencies derived from such clocks are reproducible. We achieve this through real-time comparison of NPL’s clocks with others across Europe via optical fibre links, and across the globe via satellites including the soon-to-be-operational Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES). These ultra-precise clock-clock comparisons also provide valuable insight into many open problems in fundamental physics, underpinning the hunt for dark matter, tests for violations of relativity, and constraints on possible variations in fundamental constants.

About the project

  • Experimental research involving atom trapping and quantum state manipulation, laser optics, vacuum systems, electronics, hardware and software design
  • Working in an optical clock team within the Time & Frequency department at NPL
  • Developing novel techniques to improve clock performance, such as exploring how quantum entanglement can be leveraged to suppress frequency instability by engineering ‘spin-squeezed’ states
  • Participating in international clock comparison campaigns
  • Graduate classes at University of Oxford take place one day a week during the first year. There will also be opportunities to attend skills-related training courses and international conferences

For additional information, or if you wish to apply, please contact: Dr Rachel Godun:  and Prof Christopher Foot: .


About You

Role requirements

Undergraduate degree in physics or a closely related subject, with courses in optics, quantum and atomic physics.

Full funding is only available for UK students.

About The Company

NPL and BEIS have strong commitments to diversity and equality of opportunity, and welcome applications from candidates irrespective of their background, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or age, providing they meet the required criteria. Applications from women, disabled and BAME candidates in particular are encouraged. All disabled candidates (as defined by the Equality Act 2010) who satisfy the minimum criteria for the role will be guaranteed an interview under the Disability Confident Scheme.

We’re transforming. As a national laboratory, we’re exploring even more commercial routes to market and that’s presenting us with greater opportunity – for you and us. Our success relies on the diversity and talent of our people, we strive to nurture and respect individuals to ensure everyone feels valued and supported to excel in their chosen field. This value is at the core of our organisation.

We believe in a culture of fairness by treating everyone on the basis of their own individual merits and abilities regardless of their own or perceived identity, background or any other factor irrelevant to a person’s work. At NPL we are committed to the health and well-being of our employees. Flexible working and social activities are embedded in our culture to create a positive work-life balance, along with a broad range of benefits. NPL’s values are at the heart of what we do and they shape the way we interact, develop our people and celebrate success.

As part of our commitment to diversity & inclusion, we signed up to the Institute of Physics' Project Juno in 2015 as a Juno Supporter. NPL were proud to be awarded Juno Practitioner status in 2018. NPL also joined Stonewall as a Diversity champion in 2015, participating in their annual Workplace Equality Index for the equality of LGBT+ community at NPL. In 2018, NPL became a member of the Business Disability Forum and joined the disability confident scheme as level 1 committed employer.

To ensure everyone has an equal chance, we’re always willing to make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process. If you would like to discuss, please ?subject=Diversity%20question

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