Nanotechnology

New quantum control technique paves way for next-gen ultra-sensitive sensors

Scientists have come up with a new technique by which industrial ultra-sensitive sensors will be able to filter out tiny signals from cluttered background thereby paving way for next-gen ultra-sensitive sensors.

Quantum sensing devices are sought after in industries for their ability to sense tiniest of signals, but they also suffer from background noise problems. While for humans it is relatively easy to walk into a room and pick up a single voice while ignoring others, sensors aren’t that intelligent enough at the moment.

But that will change as a University of Sydney team has solved a common problem in quantum sensing devices, which are used in biomedical imaging and have defence applications. A team led by Professor Michael J. Biercuk, in collaboration with Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in the US, has developed quantum control techniques enabling a new generation of ultra-sensitive sensors that can identify tiny signals while rejecting background noise down to theoretical limits.

Scientists say that if the right right quantum controls are applied to a qubit-based sensor, the sensor’s response can be adjusted in a way that guarantees the best possible exclusion of the background clutter. While devices themselves have improved, the measurement protocols used to capture and interpret the signals have lagged behind. Quantum sensors therefore often return fuzzy results, which complicates interpretation of the data through a phenomenon known as “spectral leakage” – a bit like being distracted by the wrong voices in the room.

The study published in Nature Communications demonstrates control protocols that will help take advantage of improved sensor hardware. For the study researchers experimented with trapped atomic ions wherein they were able to reduce spectral leakage by many orders of magnitude over conventional methods.

Professor Biercuk said in certain circumstances, the methods they have developed are up to 100 million times better at excluding this background.

Professor Biercuk said the new protocols could have applications in medicine, such as imaging inside living cells using nanodiamonds. They could also be used in defence and security systems that use quantum-enhanced magnetometers, devices that measure changes in magnetic fields for target identification and tracking.

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