Grand challenge

How do we sense and measure things rapidly and with great precision, to provide information that supports the sustainable development and improvement of living quality of society?


From the fitness trackers on our wrists to our personal navigation systems that live in our pockets, sensing and precision measurement is all around us.

What do we currently use precision sensing for?

Precision measurements are critical for numerous important aspects of our daily lives including:

  • global positioning systems (GPS, Galileo)
  • precision timestamping of financial transactions between banks
  • inter-satellite communications to enable global internet transmission (e.g. Facebook, Amazon, SpaceX)
  • autonomous driving cars (using light detection and ranging (LiDAR))
  • remote sensing of our lands and oceans (e.g. LiDAR and distributed acoustic sensing (DAS))
  • Earth imaging, which uses the same techniques as medical imaging, that help us to gain an understanding of the subsurface without invasive measures.

The challenge

Our current sensing technologies provide (almost) real-time feedback, however our team believes there is much more room for improvement here.

A few key challenges are currently holding this potential back:

  • The technology that drives these systems requires bulky and delicate instruments, limiting their use in remote areas
  • Many require stable links to GPS satellites for timing (think about when your blue dot in Google Maps is super inaccurate)
  • Processing and analysing so much data is very time-consuming

Key technologies like GPS, LiDAR and Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), all rely on precision measurements of time, distance and motion.

What is our research hoping to achieve?

Current measurement tools are bulky, delicate, expensive, and it can take months to trawl through data to extract the required information.

Microcombs instead are small, and have the potential to provide inexpensive, instantaneous millimetre accurate positioning and processing for real-time feedback to:

  • Create maps of what lies buried at depth – from the groundwater through to the layers inside the Earth
  • Assess how much water is going through our storm drains for better flood warning systems
  • Better locate currently undetected very small earthquakes
  • By improved detection and location of earthquakes we will be able to help inform early warning systems for emergency services to prepare, such as turn on generators in hospitals
  • Identify locations of natural resources like water and critical metals in a non-invasive, cost-effective way
  • Enable drones and self-driving cars to determine their location in real-time with sufficient accuracy and resilience to avoid collisions
  • Allow autonomous equipment, such as small agricultural robots or next generation smartphones, to perform complex and delicate functions, autonomously mapping and adapting to their environments in real-time.
  • Allow technologies to operate in areas where there is no GPS, (indoors, underground) expanding range of use.

Research projects

Observing the tiny wobble of a star more accurately to find earth-like planets

Making the world’s most accurate ruler smaller and more robust will bring us one step closer to finding habitable planets like our Earth.


Professor Jean Brodie

Jean is an astronomer who uses light to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies

Professor Michael Murphy

Michael is an astrophysicist and helped to develop astrocombs to help measure tiny effects in astronomical objects of potentially fundamental importance for physics.