• A nanoscience cleanroom at the University of Sydney. Credit: USyd
    A nanoscience cleanroom at the University of Sydney. Credit: USyd

The University of Sydney Nano Institute and the RAAF have launched a scientific collaboration to provide world-leading sensing technology for Australia’s defence.

Researchers at the Jericho Smart Sensing Laboratory will develop nanoscale devices that can assess the physical, chemical, biological, acoustic or electromagnetic environment. This is vital technology for Australia in monitoring electromagnetic, space and underwater domains as they become more contested and congested.

The technology will be optimised for Australian conditions, including humidity, foliage and other environmental factors that currently pose challenges for airborne sensors.

Plan Jericho is the RAAF’s project to develop augmented intelligence capability to protect Australia from technologically sophisticated and rapidly changing threats. The Jericho Lab at Sydney Nano will form a critical part of the plan’s scientific infrastructure.

“Advanced sensors give us a clearer picture of what is happening against difficult targets in challenging environments,” Deputy Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Gavin Turnbull said.

“We need to think differently to achieve and maintain our competitive edge in a rapidly changing world, and this is something we cannot do alone. Our academic and other partners are helping us to disrupt ourselves in a controlled way, which is a far better proposition than unwillingly being disrupted by our competitors.”

Associate Professor Cara Wrigley from the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning has been appointed the Jericho Chair of Design Innovation, responsible for bringing the University of Sydney’s research closer to real-world defence problems.

“The University of Sydney’s world-leading design methodologies partnered with Air Force’s experience will accelerate our cutting-edge photonics research into a real defence capability advantage for Australia,” Wrigley said. “When used on aircraft, satellites, vehicles and integrated into a sophisticated Combat Cloud – or Internet of Defence Things – these sensors will enable game-changing awareness.”

The design-led collaboration brings together Associate Professor Wrigley and Professor Benjamin Eggleton from the School of Physics and Director of Sydney Nano.

“Our smart-sensing technologies are enabled by photonic platforms, which are miniaturised on to thumbnail-sized chips to bring massive reduction in size, weight and power consumption, ideally suited for mobile or aerial platforms,” Professor Eggleton said.

The sensing chips use photons – particles of light – which cannot be affected by electromagnetic fields in the way that electronic chips can be.

“These compact, power-efficient, rugged and reliable sensors will provide information that will enable smart, timely decision-making,” Professor Eggleton said.

The experimental work will be located in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub, the headquarters of the University of Sydney Nano Institute. This purpose-built building for research and teaching incorporates environmentally controlled laboratories specifically designed for research in nanoscale devices, such as those that will underpin the compact smart sensors developed in this project. Researchers will be able to access the cleanroom space providing lithography equipment for printing photonic circuits in silicon and other materials as well as packaging and prototyping facilities.

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