Innovation

The Hub’s work will dramatically improve the accuracy of measuring time, frequency, rotation, magnetic fields and gravity. The research will have a tangible impact across a wide range of fields, including:

  • electronic stock trading;
  • GPS navigation;
  • providing a non-invasive way of measuring brain activity to further research into dementia;
  • facilitating the mapping of pipework and cabling under the road surface before digging takes place, thereby reducing disruption and traffic delays.

The Hub is focusing on five prototyping areas:

Technology

Ion trap array microchip developed at the University of Sussex (Nature Commun. 5:3637 (2014))

Ion trap array microchip developed at the University of Sussex (Nature Commun. 5:3637 (2014))

Our strategy is to develop practical prototypes and demonstrators for each sensor technology within a single Hub.

The area of quantum sensors and metrology using atoms and ions has been established by more than two decades of laboratory research. Sensitivities beating classical technologies have been demonstrated in measurements of gravity, gravity gradients, magnetic fields, rotation, time, and in quantum imaging.

In recent years, there have been many new ideas and promising proof-of-principle demonstrations including: the realisation of large momentum beamsplitters that offer two or more orders of magnitude sensitivity enhancement; the invention of phase-shear atom interferometry to enable simultaneous measurements of gravity/acceleration and rotation in multiple axes; progress on high-bandwidth atom interferometers; adiabatic rf potentials for smooth guiding geometries ; the development of grating reflectors to allow single-beam trapping; and the invention of compact atom sources promising smaller, more robust, sensors.

In addition there has been a recent breakthrough in controlling photon distribution in laser beams, the so-called multimode entanglement , which promises noise reduction in both imaging and optical position measurements.

It is an area ready for translation into technologies that will underpin new commercial applications.

Applications

With standardised, miniaturised and modularised practical quantum devices comes the birth of new markets. An example is the construction industry, where an entry threshold of ~£30k per sensor would open a market of 10,000 gravity sensing units per year. At similar cost levels, quantum sensors would compete with inertial navigation units for aircraft and ships and magnetic sensor systems for healthcare in hospitals and medical practises worldwide.

Targeting sensor production at these markets will bring further price reductions. Once the cost reaches under the thousand pound price point, multi-million unit consumer markets can be reached, including in-car navigation, magnetic brain-machine/gaming interfaces, and hand-held accelerometers.

In addition to economic potential, sensors have enormous potential impact on society. Examples include: gravity sensors to locate underground pipes and so avoid unnecessary roadworks, to monitor integrity under flooding, to uncover history by imaging underground remnants, or monitor climatic change by satellite surveillance; and magnetic sensors contributing to dementia research, determining skin types and potentially enabling the brain to communicate directly with computers.