PhD Opportunity – Durham University

Durham University is offering the following PhD research project, as part of the Translational Quantum Technology Programme:

Cooperatively Enhanced Electric Field Sensing using Rydberg Atoms

Academic Supervisors: Kevin Weatherill and Charles Adams

Industrial Collaborators: M2 lasers (Glasgow)

Atoms make excellent sensors because they are pre-calibrated and can be easily traced to SI units. However, the discrete nature of atomic energy levels mean that atoms are generally only sensitive to electromagnetic radiation in a small range of frequencies corresponding to transitions from the atomic ground state. However, by using highly-excited Rydberg atoms one can access a large manifold of atomic transitions with frequencies ranging from RF through the microwave and into the terahertz frequency range. Using pioneering  techniques developed recently at Durham [1], it is possible to optically and non-destructively detect Rydberg atoms and ‘readout’ perturbations via a ground state transition [2]. There is now great interest in using Rydberg atoms to create an electric field standard in the RF and microwave regime [3]. This project will concentrate on turning recent research demonstrations into useful technology. For example, we have recently demonstrated optical imaging of THz fields  in a thermal Rydberg vapour [4] (see Fig 1) and demonstrated the cooperative manybody enhancement of the sensitivity of the vapour to THz fields caused by the strong, long range interactions between the Rydberg atoms. We aim to exploit these advances in quantum science to create a new range of microwave and THz detectors that out perform traditional sensors.

PhD project

To perform a systematic and comprehensive study of the performance of the electric field sensor and imager. During the project you will characterise the sensitivity of the Rydberg atom vapour to microwave and THz frequency fields and learn state-of-the-art laser spectroscopy and analysis techniques. A 6-week placement at Msquared lasers will provide experience of the manufacture and testing of THz lasers in an industrial R&D environment. Working closely with the
Industrial Collaborators you will develop a strategy for increasing the Technology Readiness (TR) level of the sensor and devising a pathway toward creating a commercially available sensor. This will include; linking with existing QT hub activities on the miniaturisation of diode lasers and stabilisation electronics, optical fibre interfacing, atomic cell manufacture and design.

Interested applicants should contact the project supervisors:
Dr Kevin Weatherill, email:, or telephone number +44 (0) 191 33 43666
Prof Charles Adams, email:, or telephone number +44 (0) 191 33 43618

Note:  Please apply for the MRes Translational Quantum Technology indicating your interest in this opportunity in your application. Further information is also available on the University of Birmingham website.

[1] Coherent Optical Detection of Highly Excited Rydberg States Using Electromagnetically Induced
Transparency, A. K. Mohapatra, T. R. Jackson, and C. S. Adams, Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 113003 (2007)
[2] A giant electro-optic effect using polarizable dark states, A. K. Mohapatra, M. G. Bason, B. Butscher,
K. J. Weatherill and C. S. Adams, Nature Phys. 4, 890 (2008)
[3] Microwave electrometry with Rydberg atoms in a vapour cell using bright atomic resonances,
J. A. Sedlacek, A. Schwettmann, H. Kübler, R. Löw, T. Pfau and J. P. Shaffer, Nature Phys. 8, 819(2012)
[4] Real-Time Near-Field Terahertz Imaging with Atomic Optical Fluorescence
C. G. Wade, N. Šibalić, N. R. de Melo, J. M. Kondo, C. S. Adams, K. J. Weatherill. Arxiv: 1603.07107