Awards for innovative measurement achievements

University of Adelaide Atomic Clock Team (left) and Dr Zhiwei Sun

University of Adelaide Atomic Clock Team (left) and Dr Zhiwei Sun

University of Adelaide researchers have been awarded prizes in this year’s 2023 measurement awards, for their work on portable atomic clocks and cutting-edge techniques for improved ore sampling.

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) announced the winners at a special event during National Science Week.

The University of Adelaide Atomic Clock Team, represented by Dr Rachel Offer from the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, won the NMI Measurement Impact award for measurement-related achievements demonstrating real-world impact. The team won for their world-first deployable, autonomous optical atomic clocks. The team also won the People’s Choice award.

The Portable Atomic Clocks team at the University of Adelaide is made up of 10 core early-career researchers and engineers who have been working to develop alternative secure and independent sources of time for Defence.

These clock technologies provide independent and assured timing signals in GPS-denied environments. They also deliver signals that out-perform timing derived from GPS by many orders of magnitude.

Keeping accurate time to navigate has been a problem for centuries, including at sea. Most modern timing systems rely on satellite-based solutions, but these are vulnerable if that connection is lost. Tested on a naval vessel off Pearl Harbour in military exercises earlier this year, the team’s portable optical clocks proved to be vastly superior to current defence technologies. The clocks are the first of their kind to operate outside a laboratory.

Dr Zhiwei Sun won the Measurement Achievement Encouragement Award for measurement-related achievements by early to mid-career professionals. In 2023, this award focused on projects that aligned with the National Science Week theme of ‘Innovation: Powering Future Industries’, or with a trade and industrial focus.

Dr Sun is a senior lecturer at the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. He specialises in optical diagnostics for thermo-fluids, with a focus on combustion and multiphase flows.

With over 15 years of expertise, he adeptly develops and applies advanced optical and laser-based techniques. This work contributes significantly to the understanding of fluid dynamics, reactions, and heat/mass transfer processes.

Dr Sun won the Measurement Achievement Encouragement Award (formerly the NMI prize) for the development of a micro-focusing shadowgraph technique for microparticle sizing – a technique which helps with improved ore sampling in the mining industry.

Imagine taking a photo of a few people who are moving through a crowd. You might get them, but the image also captures all the people moving in front and behind them during the shot. It’s hard to recognise the people you are looking for – the same problem applies to many industry flows with high loading particles, like iron ores. Current techniques don’t work due to too many particles being present.

Dr Sun uses a new focusing technique to filter out interfering samples in front and behind, allowing fast measurement of multiple particle properties that can’t be achieved with current systems.

Professor Graham ‘Gus’ Nathan and PhD candidate Shipu Han also contributed to the technique development.

The NMI play an important role in the Australian economy. Their work adapts to, services, and enhances the productivity and growth of Australian industries, and aims to ensure a fair, safe, healthy and competitive Australia. They also promote the value of measurement to society.

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