Metasurface Optical Chips Now Used to Shrink Quantum Sensors

August 26, 2020 by Luke James

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed a way of shrinking the devices used in quantum sensing systems.

Quantum technology plays a role in sensing devices by finely controlling laser beams, maneuvering atoms at cold temperatures. For this to be achieved successfully, the atoms need to be contained within a vacuum-sealed chamber where they can be supercooled to the desired temperatures. 

However, miniaturizing the machines that do this is challenging for scientists. Laser beams require a relatively large amount of space owing to their angular arrangement set out in groups of three pairs. What’s more, the machines are cumbersome and hard to transport, making current designs unsuitable for industrial uses and applications.


Shrinking Quantum Sensors

Now, there may be a solution for the issue of size thanks to the work of Birmingham researchers who have used a new approach to shrink quantum sensors to a fraction of their current size. Working in collaboration with SUSTech in China and Paderborn University in Germany, the researchers presented a new chip that significantly reduced the space needed for the laser delivery system. 

To create the chip, researchers turned to a method using manufactured structures known as optical metasurfaces, which can be used to control light. By using an optical metasurface, the researchers claim that it’s possible to design a chip capable of diffracting a single beam into five separate and uniform beams that are used to supercool the atoms. 


shrink devices used in quantum sensing systems

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have found a way to shrink devices used in quantum sensing systems. Image used courtesy of University of Birmingham

They also say that this single chip can be used to replace the complex optical devices that make up current cooling system designs. This technology comes on the heels of other UK researchers finding a way to use quantum technology to control laser beams that can turn insulators into conductors and vice versa


A Platform for Future Sensing Devices

The optical chip is described in more detail in the article published in Science Advances. Measuring just 0.5 mm across, the chip is part of a platform for future sensing devices measuring about 30 cm3. Ultimately, the team is hopeful that their work will lead to a range of new applications for sensing devices in the industry. 

Dr. Yu-Hung Lien, the lead author of the study, says, “The mission of the UK Quantum Technology Hub is to deliver technologies that can be adopted and used by industry. Designing devices that are small enough to be portable or which can fit into industrial processes and practices is vital. This new approach represents a significant step forward in this approach.”

The researchers will now focus on optimizing the size and performance of the platform to maximize sensitivity.