AION: The Atom Interferometric Observatory and Network
28 Jul 2023



The Atom Interferometric Observatory and Network (AION) is a project to construct and operate a next-generation large-scale atom interferometer.



A side-arm prototype

​The detector exploits techniques based on quantum interference effects and will enable the exploration of properties of dark matter and searches for new fundamental interactions. It also provides the potential of new technology for detecting gravitational waves, from the very early Universe and astrophysical sources in the mid-frequency band ranging from several mHz to a few Hz which is mostly inaccessible as of yet.

Started in 2021, AION-10 is the first stage in the long-term vision of the AION programme with an aim to build and commission a 10-meter atom interferometer in the Beecroft Building at the University of ​Oxford. Working closely with the AION community, RAL Space, Particle Physics, AsTec and Technology delivered side-arm prototypes for AION-10, and are responsible for the design and analysis of the main tower of the interferometer.  

AION-10 tower design (left) and tower 
analysis (right)
The main tower is a critical structure in the interferometer, functioning as the vital support for the central instrument, side arms, and other major modules. Due to the extremely high sensitivity of the detector, the requirement to meet stringent stability specifications within a constrained space presented a unique challenge for the design of the slim erected tower. Engineers in ​Technology carried out analysis alongside the mechanical design of the structure. Leveraging the power of vibration models and computer simulation, the tower was optimised with its stability performance investigated thoroughly. The outcome enabled the design of the atom interferometer to proceed smoothly and confidently. Throughout the rest of 2023, we will complete the design with the towers, which will be manufactured in 2024/25 and built into a working instrument housed in the Beacroft Building.

​Written by Joe O'Dell, a member of the RAL Projects and Mechanical Engineering team.