Nikhef joined the White Rabbit collaboration of experts in timing and synchronization as of 2024.
The Electronics Technology Department had been closely involved in developments in that field since 2009. The consortium should provide continuity, says Nikhef researcher and WR specialist Peter Jansweijer. “It is now important to consolidate what we have achieved.”
White Rabbit (WR) is a technology and protocol that allows remote electronic systems to synchronize with each other better than a nanosecond. This is important, for example, in the large detectors of astroparticle physics. Simultaneity is also an increasingly important requirement in telecom with the advent of 5G, with such as for precise positioning or management of power grids.
White Rabbit has now been standardized and is described in the Insitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standard 1588 (IEEE-1588). WR is more precise than GPS and works in places where GPS is not available, such as underground or underwater. WR can also serve as a backup to GPS, reducing a societal vulnerability.
The methods and techniques used are emphatically open source, and thus available to anyone, including commercial parties. The name for the WR technique is derived from the White Rabbit from the book Alice in Wonderland, who invariably runs around with a watch in his hand.
Nikhef is now one of the founding members of the White Rabbit consortium, which also includes accelerator labs CERN and GSI Darmstadt as of January 1 of this year. Members pay a contribution to organizational costs. The consortium is expressly looking for more members, the website reports.
Jansweijer: “During the development of White Rabbit a lot of knowledge was gained, but now that it is working well you see the resources and people disappear again and with them knowledge. While a technology like this is never finished, you have to maintain it and improve it where possible.” This inevitably raised the question of who should actually do that.
The White Rabbit consortium has a central office and help desk based at CERN, one of the founders and custodians of the technology. Geneva also maintains a repository, an archive of designs, software and documentation for White Rabbit.
For certification and calibration of equipment, including commercial equipment, a laboratory in the U.S. is in the running. Jansweijer: “White Rabbit will also be a seal of approval for equipment in which the protocol is correctly applied. Only then can you put our logo on it.”
Jansweijer himself was heavily involved in designing hardware and software for White Rabbit through Nikhef. Among other things, he designed a compact version with only the essential inputs and outputs, appropriately called Baby White Rabbit.