Advanced concept for chip-scale atomic clocks

Advanced concept for chip-scale atomic clocks


Interest in compact and low power consumption atomic clocks (aka CSAC, Chip-Scale Atomic Clocks) have been progressively increasing in the last decade based on benefits demonstrated for a wide range of application, such as PNT in adverse environment (long coherent integration), secure telecommunication (frequency hopping) or in order to allow timing hold-over capability in case of loss of GNSS signal. Such devices feature the unique capability of a stable frequency (and timing) reference, otherwise unreachable with conventional technology based on quartz crystal resonators or MEMS oscillators.
Current CSAC technology rely on miniaturisation of atomic resonators by employing micro-fabricated vapour cells and on techniques to avoid usage of bulky and unscalable microwave cavities normally required in conventional atomic clocks. Such solutions have enormously reduced mass and power consumption, although still facing complexity in assembly and challenges in thermal design, given the need to operate vapour cells at high temperature. A number of recent publications have identified alternative advanced concepts for chip-scale atomic clocks (e.g. using solid-state materials as source of atomic resonator in place of vapour cells). These innovative concepts open new avenues in the miniaturisation, integration and power/thermal handling of such devices.
The main objective of the proposed activity is to identify, define and prove a novel approach for further miniaturisation, power reduction and integration of chip-scale atomic clocks.
The tasks to be performed will include:

  • consolidation of state-of-art, patent survey and analysis of alternative approaches for miniature atomic clock resonators. This extensive survey shall cover the fundamental aspects of miniature atom sensing approaches, their practical realisation, the involved technologies and processes. This shall lead to the identification of the preferred solution for a proof-of-concept;
  • definition, design, implementation and validation of a practical proof-of-concept demonstrator;
  • test/demo campaigns and thorough assessment of results.

The results of the activity will provide:

  • a proof-of concept demonstrator of solutions and technologies for chip-scale atomic resonators, using alternative materials in place of vapour cells;
  • results of demonstration test campaigns with characterisation of key proof-of-concept performance parameters (e.g. stability, power consumption)
  • recommendations for further miniaturisation, power reduction and integration of chip-scale atomic clocks, together with a plan for full technology development and industrialisation.