The Sapphire Clock team, led by Professor Andre Luiten, is one of two finalists in the “Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia” category the Australian Museum Eureka Prize.
Over the last 20 years, the Sapphire Clock team, including Professor Andre Luiten, A/Professor John Hartnett and A/Professor Martin O’Connor has developed a high-precision technology that generates signals of the ultimate purity. The Sapphire Clock is a cryogenic sapphire oscillator that allows time to be measured to the femtosecond scale (one quadrillionth of a second), with only a single second gained or lost every 40 million years. This kind of accuracy is required for ultra-high precision measurements.
Their work was motivated out of a belief that precision measurement is the path to discovering new knowledge – a foundation belief of all science – however, this capability also delivers a competitive advantage to industry by allowing one to measure what was previously thought to be immeasurable.
Recently, the Sapphire Clock team initiated a collaboration the Jindalee Over-The-Horizon Radar Network (JORN) with the Sapphire Clock having applications to improve radar technology. JORN is a linchpin of Australia’s security, providing long-range, broad-scale and continuous surveillance. The sapphire clock technology offers a step-change in the performance of this radar, which has been likened to getting 30 years of development in just one day. This combination of leading technologies opens a path to improved security for all Australians
“By combining two decades of pioneering research with cutting-edge engineering, the Sapphire Clock Team’s technology offers the potential for a step change in the performance of the Jindalee Over-The-Horizon Radar Network, a vital Australian defence asset. The Sapphire Clock offers a thousandfold improvement in timing precision, helping Australian defence agencies identify threats to the nation”
Australian Museum media release
The award is in recognition of Andre and team’s pioneering research into the development of techniques for extremely precise and accurate measurement of time. Specifically, the Cryogenic Sapphire Clock is a ultra precise oscillator that can measure time at the femtosecond scale (one quadrillionth of a second) and a single second deviation occurs one every 40 million years. This kind of precision is essential for technologies such as metrology and radar.
Prof Andre Luiten has been appointed as a member of the National Committee for Physics (NCP), with tenure until 31st March 2020. The NCP is one of 22 national committees within the Australian Academy of Science(AAS), with the broad aim of fostering links between domestic and international scientists within disciplines to the academy.
The publication “Fast machine-learning online optimisation of ultra-cold-atom experiments” was ranked in the top 100 articles published in Scientific Reports in 2016, receiving 11820 views.
Scientific Reports is part of the Nature publishing group and more than 20000 articles were published in 2016.
Reference: Wigley et al (2016) “Fast Machine-Learning Online Optimization of Ultra-Cold-Atom Experiments” Scientific Reports, 6, 25890. doi:10.1038/srep25890
The Sapphire Clock is featured on the front cover of this month’s “Cold Facts”, the official publication of the Cryogenic Society of America,
The Sapphire Clock is a cryogenic sapphire oscillator that allows time to be measured to the femtosecond scale (one quadrillionth of a second), the kind of accuracy required for ultra high precision measurements; such as radar technology, long baseline astronomy and quantum computing.
Building off technology developed by Prof Andre Luiten in 1996 and Prof John Hartnett in 2004-2012, the most recent version of the Sapphire Clock is capable of 100 time better spectral purity than other commercially available technologies.
The Sapphire Clock team is led by A/Prof Martin O’Connor and a commercial version will be available in late 2017.
Ref: O’Connor et al (2017) Cold Facts, Vol 33 (1): 16-17.
The Turnbull Government has announced an additional $16 million for 10 critical research projects that will generate meaningful social and economic benefits for all Australians in areas including urban infrastructure, bioscience, telecommunications and health.
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the investment from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) Agility Fund would help unlock Australia’s potential as an innovation nation by “backing work that offers real and tangible benefits for Australians from all walks of life”.
“Homes, hospitals, farms and fishing trawlers are just some of the places set to see benefits from the research these new facilities will deliver,” Minister Birmingham said.
“From areas as diverse as microscopy and marine science to ion acceleration and veterinary science, the Coalition’s $16 million additional investment in 10 research projects highlights our commitment to ensuring Australia has the support it needs for research and innovation.
“Our commitments stand in stark contrast to Labor which in government announced $6.6 billion worth of cuts from higher education and research and left major research infrastructure without funding, like NCRIS, which jeopardised the jobs of 1,700 highly skilled critical researchers.”
The additional $16 million funding comes on top of the $150 million of indexed investment for ongoing operations that we committed through the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Minister Birmingham said that the Coalition had taken an holistic approach to research by encouraging collaboration with industry and business to focus on being more responsive to the needs and priorities of our society and economy.
“Australia needs a coordinated and focused approach to research priorities that are targeted at those things that make a difference to Australia and generate meaningful social and economic benefits,” Minister Birmingham said.
“That’s why our National Innovation and Science Agenda outlined sharper incentives in research funding that reward research excellence and partnership with industry.
“In May we committed $163 million to 258 new research projects that have been selected based on how they map to the challenges Australia faces.”
Minister Birmingham was joined at the announcement by the country’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO who was in Adelaide as part of a nationwide consultation trip to develop the priorities for Australian research.
“The work Dr Finkel and his Expert Working Group of researchers, stakeholders and business leaders are doing is critically important to develop a new roadmap for NCRIS and direction for research and innovation for the next decade,” Minister Birmingham said.
“The Expert Working Group has already made great progress and their work will ensure Australia has clear research priorities so that our universities and institutions can work together to tackle the challenges we face across the country.”
Six case studies have been featured in the Winter Edition of Lumen Magazine. The Universities Alumni Magazine. Case studies include:
- Surgery probe cuts cancer trauma
- Shining light on ancient events
- Support for the food and beverage sector
- Sniffing out disease
- Helping prove Einstein right
- Scientists strike gold
Surgery probe cuts cancer trauma
An optical fibre probe being developed by IPAS should improve the accuracy of breast cancer surgery and reduce the trauma for patients. Currently there is no reliable technique for assessing if tissue is healthy or cancerous during surgery, with many patients forced to endure a follow-up operation to remove tumour tissue that was missed.
“We’re working on an optical fibre probe that can be used by the surgeon during the initial surgery for an instant assessment of whether the tissue is cancerous or not,” said Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Erik Schartner. “The tip of the probe simply has to be placed against an unknown area to receive a reading.”
“We’re hoping this will find broad use by surgeons and reduce the worry and trauma to patients who may have to face additional surgeries due to the limitations of existing medical devices.”
Shining light on ancient events
An IPAS research team is shedding new light on the modern and ancient worlds through its advances in luminescence dating. The process is being used to provide exciting new insights into areas of great interest such as the dating of earlier climate change events and the human colonisation of Australia.
“Our research is also helping investigations into a third controversial topic – the timing and cause of the mass extinction of Australian megafauna,” said Adjunct Professor Nigel Spooner.
Luminesence dating measures radiation and energy absorption in samples to provide the age of events from a few months to hundreds of millennia. It’s become a critical tool in areas such as palaeontology, archaeology and the earth sciences.
“The work of our lab is helping to better understand the physics of luminescence to provide even greater accuracy and extend its use in other novel applications,” Nigel said.
Support for the food and beverage sector
Technology developed to identify bacteria in hospitals has been adapted by IPAS and the Adelaide Proteomics Centre to assist the local brewing industry in improving quality control practices. Beer contaminated by spoilage microorganisms can cost brewers thousands of dollars for expensive recalls and cause immeasurable damage to brand reputation.
Dr Florian Weiland said IPAS was using mass spectrometry profiling as a rapid and cost-effective way of identifying spoilage yeast and bacteria during routine testing at various stages of beer production.
“While beer-spoilage microorganisms are harmless to human health, they produce off-flavours in the beer. This technology allows smaller breweries to conduct more extensive testing of their products that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive,” he said.
IPAS has been working with Coopers Brewery to further develop the technology and is also involved in a separate initiative with Mismatch Brewing Co, The Hills Cider Company, Ashton Valley Fresh and Adelaide Hills Distillery. Other microbrewers and small-batch beverage companies can also have samples tested using a fee-for-service program.
“Eventually we want to expand the technology for the broader SA food industry, particularly dairy and smallgoods producers,” said Florian.
Sniffing out disease
A super-sensitive laser system dubbed an optical dog’s nose is being developed by IPAS scientists to ‘sniff out’ disease in a person’s breath. The optical frequency comb analyses breath molecules to detect evidence of disease before any external symptoms are showing.
“Breath analysis is a relatively new field with studies around the world demonstrating that diseases such as lung and oesophageal cancer, asthma and diabetes can be detected in this way,” said IPAS Director Professor Andre Luiten.
The technology being developed by IPAS sends up to a million different light frequencies through each molecule to reveal its unique molecular fingerprint.
“The system could lead to broadscale health screening because it can test for a range of molecules at once and offers almost instant results,” said Andre.
The team hopes to have a working prototype within two years and a commercial product by 2020. Andre thanked the SA Government for supporting the project through the Premier’s Research and Industry Fund.
Helping prove Einstein right
Scientists at IPAS have played a key role in proving the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time first predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago. The technological triumph earlier this year is sweet success for Associate Professor Peter Veitch, the University’s Head of Physics, who has spent most of his working life trying to detect these elusive waves.
Peter was part of an IPAS team that provided support for the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration. IPAS researchers developed ultra-high precision optical sensors to correct the distortion of laser beams within the Advanced LIGO detectors. This enabled the high sensitivity needed to detect minute signals produced by the cataclysmic merger of two black holes more than one billion years ago.
“I’ve spent nearly 40 years working towards this detection which could lead to dramatic changes in our understanding of the universe and its evolution,” said Peter.
Scientists strike gold
Portable gold detection equipment 100 times more sensitive than existing technology has been developed by an IPAS research team.Using light in two different processes – fluorescence and light absorption – researchers have shown they can detect minute traces of gold in water at less than 100 parts per billion. The technology will allow exploration companies to test for gold on-site at the drilling rig with much greater accuracy and speed.
“The presence of gold deep underground is estimated by analysis of rock particles from exploration drill holes but when it’s in very low concentrations that’s extremely challenging,” said post-doctoral researcher Dr Agnieszka Zuber.
“Current portable methods for detection are not sensitive enough and the more sophisticated laboratory systems can take weeks to produce results.”
The easy-to-use IPAS sensor aims to deliver a result within an hour at much lower cost. The research is funded by the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre and the technology is currently being tested on rock samples with promising results.
Story by Ian Williams
Flinders University Researcher Dr Roger Yazbek, who is collaborating on an ARC Linkage grant with Prof Andre Luiten on cancer detection, has recently had the following article published in The Advertiser on their research “blow in the bag” breath test for cancer.
They hope the relatively cheap, non-invasive and rapid tests will eventually be similar to breast screening tests, giving an early warning for people who return a positive result to seek further testing.
Flinders University researcher Dr Roger Yazbek is leading the innovative project at the Flinders School of Medicine Breath Analysis Research Laboratory.
He noted that many people think expelled breath is simply carbon dioxide but he said it could carry clues to a range of cancers.
“With more than 2000 compounds in a single human breath, there is plenty of information there about the state of our health,” he said.
“We are developing a comprehensive breath analysis program which covers a range of things including cancers and the results so far are very promising.
“We are still at the laboratory research stage but in the near future hope to extend to clinical trials.
“We have started collecting breath samples from a range of patients to identify a range of biomarkers for cancer — once we have this data, we will conduct validation trials to roll out some of the first tests, perhaps in less than five years.”
The project is initially focusing on gastrointestinal conditions such as stomach cancer and oesophageal cancer. About 1300 and 2000 Australians are diagnosed with these cancers respectively each year.
Dr Yazbek noted the symptoms of oesophageal cancer manifested late, and an early warning test would save lives.
The breath tests use both passive and active tests. The passive tests measures the various compounds a person exhales, looking for clues to health problems.
The active tests involves giving a person a liquid that interacts with an enzyme unique to a cancer, then checking to see if the exhaled breath carries the telltale resulting biomarker.
The research team intend to expand the project to develop a test for inflammatory bowel disease.
They also are collaborating with University of Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s
Hospital to develop novel breath analysis tools to manage other serious conditions, including cystic fibrosis, neurodegenerative diseases and general gut disorders.
Dr Yazbek emphasised that the new technique would not replace existing tests.
“For oesophageal cancer, you would target those most at risk due to age and lifestyle, much like breast screening, and if there was a positive result you would refer them for further traditional tests,” he said.
“A rapid, simple and non-invasive tool would help to guide better clinical management, avoiding repeated and costly invasive tissue testing which also significantly impacts patients’ quality of life.”
A proof-of-concept paper, In Vitro Development and Validation of a Non-Invasive 13C-Stable Isotope Assay for Ornithine Decarboxylase (ODC), was recently published in the Journal of Breath Research, describing how ODC in human breath can be used as a potential prognostic marker for oesophageal cancer.
The experiment, developed by physicists from ANU, University of Adelaide and UNSW ADFA, created an extremely cold gas trapped in a laser beam, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, replicating the experiment that won the 2001 Nobel Prize. Part of this research team was IPAS Director Professor Andre Luiten and Professor Anton van den Hengel, School of Computer Sciences at University of Adelaide.
“I didn’t expect the machine could learn to do the experiment itself, from scratch, in under an hour,” said co-lead researcher Paul Wigley from ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.
“A simple computer program would have taken longer than the age of the universe to run through all the combinations and work this out.”
Bose-Einstein condensates are some of the coldest places in the Universe, far colder than outer space, typically less than a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.
They could be used for mineral exploration or navigation systems as they are extremely sensitive to external disturbances, which allows them to make very precise measurements such as tiny changes in the Earth’s magnetic field or gravity.
The artificial intelligence system’s ability to set itself up quickly every morning and compensate for any overnight fluctuations would make this fragile technology much more useful for field measurements, said co-lead researcher Dr Michael Hush from UNSW ADFA.
“You could make a working device to measure gravity that you could take in the back of a car, and the artificial intelligence would recalibrate and fix itself no matter what,” he said.
“It’s cheaper than taking a physicist everywhere with you.”
The team cooled the gas to around 1 microkelvin, and then handed control of the three laser beams over to the artificial intelligence to cool the trapped gas down to nanokelvin.
Researchers were surprised by the methods the system came up with to ramp down the power of the lasers.
“It did things a person wouldn’t guess, such as changing one laser’s power up and down, and compensating with another,” said Mr Wigley.
“It may be able to come up with complicated ways humans haven’t thought of to get experiments colder and make measurements more precise.
The new technique will lead to bigger and better experiments, said Dr Hush.
“Next we plan to employ the artificial intelligence to build an even larger Bose-Einstein condensate faster than we’ve seen ever before,” he said.
The research is published in the Nature group journal Scientific Reports.
The VRP 2.0 (Volar Radius Plate) is a joint project between the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and Austofix, an Adelaide-based medical device company specialising in medical devices.
The device design, by Austofix, includes an improved locking mechanism for the plate and an increased variable angle for the screws, which means surgeons can get a better hold on the wrist bone, leading to quicker healing.
The VRP 2.0 will be launched by the end of the year, and is expected to be suitable for treating 90 per cent of all wrist fractures.
“This is one of the exciting outcomes of the Photonics Catalyst Program which brings together university expertise in laser and other light-based technologies (photonics) with industry to support the development of cutting-edge products,” says Professor Andre Luiten, Director of IPAS, and Chair of Experimental Physics with the School of Physical Sciences.
“And as a result of this project and the collaboration that’s been put in place, we are set to become the advanced manufacturing research and development lab for Austofix.”
The VRP 2.0 project was part-funded by the State Government through the Photonics Catalyst Program, a joint initiative between the Department of State Development and IPAS.
“This project brought together Austofix’s regulatory and clinical expertise, designers and engineers with the advanced manufacturing capabilities at IPAS, including 3D metal printing and ultrasonic milling specialists,” says Mr Chris Henry, Austofix General Manager.
“Our Austofix product design engineers, working with IPAS, were able to innovate within a flexible design and manufacturing process. This environment was key to our ability to take the prototype to market within such a short timeframe.”
Over the six month project in consultation with Australian surgeons, many different designs were considered, prototyped and tested for an optimal solution that meets the needs of orthopaedic surgeons.
The work was carried out at the Optofab node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility at the University of Adelaide.