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16 September 2020

2-Photon Optical Clock Collaboration Awarded OSA’s 2020 Paul F. Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award

Team makes breakthrough with optical atomic clock architecture

WASHINGTON — The Optical Society (OSA) is pleased to announce that the 2-Photon Optical Clock Collaboration, USA, has received the 2020 Paul F. Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award. The team comprises researchers and engineers from California Institute of Technology, Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

They are recognized “for the development of an optical atomic clock architecture that leverages microfabricated photonic components, leading to a vast reduction in size, weight, and power for next generation applications in timing, navigation, and communication”.

The 2020 award was presented on 16 September during the OSA Frontiers in Optics (FiO) + Laser Science (LS) Plenary Session. A list of all team members is available here.

“This team’s work utilizing microfabricated vapor cells promises a new generation of miniaturized optical atomic clocks that would have broad commercial implications,” said 2020 OSA President Stephen Fantone. “This is an exciting development, and OSA is proud to recognize the team’s outstanding work.”

Laboratory-scale optical clocks have achieved remarkable accuracy, creating exciting possibilities to explore fundamental physics and enable new measurements – benefiting multiple disciplines such as telecommunications, utilities, financial markets and navigation.

The 2-Photon Optical Clock Collaboration took on the challenge to develop an optical clock that leverages a photonic architecture to provide compact, low power operation. The team needed to address challenges across a range of disciplines, including atomic physics, optical engineering, and nanophotonic design and fabrication.

Their innovative approach utilized a fully self-referenced dual-microcomb architecture stabilized to an optical frequency reference based on thermal atoms. This strategy enabled the first realization of optical frequency division with low-power and compact microcombs. The simple design of the thermal atom reference provides for robust operation and better manufacturability compared to systems based on ultracold atoms.

The team ultimately combined several component technologies to demonstrate an integrated photonic architecture for an optical atomic clock as described in their Optica paper of May 2019. Through careful optical design for improved two-photon optical excitation and enhanced fluorescence collection, the team has demonstrated performance of the atomic frequency reference using their chip-scale vapor cell that is at the level of the best table-top implementations.  Additionally, the team has demonstrated a fully integrated two-photon optical frequency reference on a micro-optics breadboard, compatible with current commercial fabrication processes. The level of end-to-end optical integration from laser source through to detector, achieves vastly reduced size, power consumption and cost through improved manufacturability.

The Paul F. Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award was established by OSA in 1989 and named in remembrance of Paul F. Forman, who helped raise visibility for the field of optical engineering, in 2007. The team award recognizes technical achievements such as product engineering, process, software and patent development, as well as contributions to society such as engineering education, publication and management, and public appreciation of optical engineering. For more information on the award or the nomination process, visit OSA Awards.



Team Members

California Institute of Technology

Kerry J. Vahala, Principal investigator, 2016 to 2019

Boqiang Shen, Graduate Research Assistant, 2016 to 2019

Myoung-Gyun Suh, Graduate Research Assistant, 2016 to 2017

Ki Youl Yang, Graduate Research Assistant, 2016 to 2017

The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory

Cort Johnson, Optical Reference Integration Leader, 2016 to present

David M. S. Johnson, Program Manager, 2016 to 2018

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Matthew T. Hummon, Project Leader, 2016 to present

Kartik Srinivasan, Project Leader, 2016 to present

John Kitching, Group Leader and NIST Fellow, 2016 to present

Daron Westly, Process Engineer, 2016 to present

B. Robert Ilic, NanoFab Manager, 2016 to present

Tara Drake, Research Associate, 2016 to 2019

Daryl T. Spencer, Research Associate, 2016 to 2018

Qing Li, Research Associate, 2016 to 2018

National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Colorado, Boulder

Scott B. Papp, Project Leader, 2016 to present

Scott A. Diddams, Project Leader and NIST Fellow, 2016 to present

Zachary L. Newman, Research Associate, 2016 to present

Vincent Maurice, Research Associate, 2017 to 2019

Jordan R. Stone, Graduate Research Assistant, 2016 to present

Travis C. Briles, Research Associate, 2016 to present

Connor Fredrick, Graduate Research Assistant, 2016 to present

Stanford University

Leo Hollberg, Principle Investigator, 2016 to present



About The Optical Society

The Optical Society (OSA) is dedicated to promoting the generation, application, archiving, and dissemination of knowledge in optics and photonics worldwide. Founded in 1916, it is the leading organization for scientists, engineers, business professionals, students, and others interested in the science of light. OSA’s renowned publications, meetings, online resources, and in-person activities fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate scientific, technical, and educational achievement.

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