Radar installation at the University of Birmingham

Transforming detection with quantum-enabled radar

Radars are being installed at the top of an engineering building at the University of Birmingham as part of a demonstration intended to test and prove the precision of quantum-enabled radar detection capabilities.

A key part of keeping everyday life secure is being able to detect dangerous or unsafe situations before they occur. Quantum enabled radar technology research, undertaken by School of Engineering academics at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, aims to do precisely this.

The Quantum Technology Hub is led by the University of Birmingham and partnered with the Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Sussex, Imperial, Nottingham, Southampton as well as the National Physics Laboratory and the British Geological Survey. It has a close focus on industrial collaboration and partnership and. in line with this, the radars are being developed and installed by Aveillant, a radar technology company whose mission is to move radar technology into the information age by powering a full digital picture of the sky.

The radar technology being exhibited at the demonstration is dependent on the Hub’s compact atomic clock oscillators., housed on campus. These oscillators provide the high precision and low signal noise required for the radar to detect small, slow moving objects, such as drones, at longer distances, and even in cluttered environments.

Radar detection is a deceptively complex necessity in the modern world: it is required for a surprisingly wide range of sectors. For example, high precision radar will ensure autonomous vehicles can detect hazards well ahead of time. Hub academics are also developing next generation distributed radar systems, which will transform surveillance by providing much greater coverage and maintaining real-time situational awareness in highly congested and cluttered environments.

The EPRSC-funded project Mapping and Enabling Future Airspace (MEFA), led by academics at the Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering, will also benefit hugely from the radar installation. MEFA is a three-year interdisciplinary project bringing together radar experts from across the University to study the use of urban airspace. The project will investigate how radar can be used to study the effects of urban developments on migrating birds, and also to differentiate between flying birds and small drones. Data collected during the radar installation will be incredibly beneficial for the MEFA project.

Professor Chris Baker, Chair in Intelligent Sensor Systems at the University of Birmingham, School of Engineering, said: “By putting in place this highly sophisticated world-leading technology, we and our partners can explore a wide range of advance, novel networked radar surveillance concepts.”

Dr Dominic Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Aveillant, added “We are delighted that our Holographic Radars are being used in this programme. At Aveillant we are always looking to push the boundaries of our technology, and working with some of the UK’s leading academic institutions such as the University of Birmingham, is allowing us to do just that.”

This article was originally posted on the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing website

Speeding train in station

Major new research project will slash train delays and improve passenger experience

A new research project aimed at improving railway navigation technology in an effort to reduce train delays and increase passenger experience has been launched at the University of Birmingham.

The project aims to tackle one of the rail sector’s biggest challenges: how to pinpoint the accurate location of a moving train. Overcoming this challenge is key to ensuring fewer train delays and increased passenger safety.

The University of Birmingham-led UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing and the University of Birmingham’s Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) are joining forces to solve this problem.

Experts from both centres will collaborate to develop a system for quantum-enabled navigation, which is a standalone system capable of capturing highly accurate measurements without reliance on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which will help engineers ensure the health of the railway track and passenger ride comfort.

“The system we are developing will have gravity map-matching capabilities, allowing engineers to understand what is happening underneath the track as well as the train’s movement,” explains Professor Clive Roberts, Director of BCRRE at the University of Birmingham, and Co-Investigator for the Navigation work package at the Quantum Technology Hub.  “The quantum sensors will provide highly accurate measurements that will help to detect the rate of change of the track, and subsequently, any deteriorations which might lead to faults.”

Professor Costas Constantinou, Chair of Communication Electrodynamics and Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “Our dependence on GPS can leave navigation systems vulnerable to spoofing or, more frequently, loss of positioning due to weak network signals – a particular challenge when trains are moving through tunnels, for example.

“Our standalone navigation system does not rely on satellite signals and is therefore not exposed to the same external risks experienced by GNSS.

As part of the project, field tests will take place on the test track at Long Marston, in Warwickshire early next year, where sensors will be installed on a purpose-built stabilisation platform in a train.

Industry collaboration is central to the Quantum Technology Hub’s goal of translating science into real-world applications, and Hub academics are working with Network Rail and other international railway organisations to bring precise navigation to the rail sector.

The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, which partners with the Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Southampton, Nottingham, Sussex, Imperial College London, NPL and the British Geological Survey, is also actively developing quantum inertial navigation systems for use on ships and cars. The Hub’s aim is to create robust systems to support the services which make up the UK’s critical national infrastructure, including transport, civil engineering and communications.

This article was originally posted on the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing website

Cogs in machine

Developing optical lattice clocks to test gravity theory

A new class of optical clocks are set to revolutionize timekeeping by offering a level of precision that significantly exceeds standard atomic clocks, say leading experts at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, which is led by the University of Birmingham.

These new so-called optical lattice clocks can be used to test the limits of gravity to a high level of precision and also enable further study of the Earth’s geodesy, comment Dr Yeshpal Singh and Professor Kai Bongs in an article published in Nature.

In the article, Dr Singh and Professor Bongs discuss how Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which explains gravity as a “consequence of the curvature of space-time that is deformed by mass”, has been held as the “best theory of gravity we currently have” since it was published in 1915.

Dr Singh, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy and academic lead for quantum clocks at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, said: “It has not yet been possible to unify the theory of relativity with quantum field theory, meaning that there is not yet a complete theory of nature”.

“For instance, dark energy and dark matter - subjects used to describe observations of an accelerating expansion of the Universe contradicting predictions from Einstein’s theory - remain unexplained.

“So how do we develop more precise tests of relativity? At the Quantum Technology Hub, my team and I are working closely with industry to develop portable, robust quantum clocks, which aim to give ultra-precise, ultra-accurate time to more than one billionth of a second.

“These clocks, along with the rest of the sensor technology in development at the Hub, are specifically being created to be robust and transportable, capable of performing in deployable conditions. Once developed, quantum clocks can be implemented in a number of sectors, such as in finance, navigation, and even space.”

Optical Lattice clocks were first proposed by Professor Hidetoshi Katori at the University of Tokyo in the early 2000s.  They store atoms tight enough to remove unwanted Doppler frequency shifts, hence allowing long interrogation times, and not interfering with the frequency of the clock transition.

The clocks will also present an opportunity to test general relativity and geodesy. This will be done by placing clocks at differing heights to determine the geoid height via a frequency comparison between the clocks, providing competition with the best geophysical approaches.

One example is the recent breakthrough by Professor Katori and his team, when two portable, robust optical clocks were created, with precision surpassing many of the best clocks available in the world. A six-month long measurement campaign was undertaken to achieve results comparable with the “best space tests of general relativity, and open[ing] up fascinating new applications on Earth using such clocks”.

Professor Katori and his team’s impressive achievement, and the potential of optical lattice clock projects all over the world, paves the way for exciting industrial collaboration with researchers at the Quantum Technology Hub to revolutionise oil and mineral exploration, ultra-precise satellite navigation systems and performing time synchronization for quantum communication networks.

This article was originally posted on the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing website

Low light single photon imaging
Low light single photon imaging

Could you take a high-resolution image in the dark?

A photon is the fundamental particle of light and it takes many million of these photons to form an image on a sensor in a conventional camera. You would also expect that the more photons available, the better the image. But what if you wanted to take a good quality image in very low light conditions, for example, in the study of cells for medical research?

At QuantIC, we have developed camera sensors that can form images from fewer than one photon per camera pixel. Reducing the required light level means that images can be obtained without damaging the object and such capabilities have applications in the imaging of delicate specimens which are sensitive and easily damaged by light. We are now working with an industry partner in microscopy to see how this can improve the imaging of light sensitive biological samples.

Find out more:

Image: Demonstration of low light single photon imaging at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase, by Dan Tsantilis / EPSRC

Single atom in an ion trap, by David Nadlinger
Building a quantum computer using individual atoms

How can you control individual atoms so that they can be used as the building blocks of a quantum computer?

We are aiming to build a quantum computer using ion traps as qubits, the ‘quantum bits’ within our machine. An ion is an electrically-charged atom, where an outer electron has been stripped away, leaving the whole atom with an electric charge. An ion trap is a device which controls individual ions by making them levitate stably within an electric field. Once trapped, they can be controlled with lasers and used for information processing in our quantum computer.

Ion traps are really small, but we can build them on to a microchip, similar to what you have in your home computer. These are then put inside a vacuum, so no other atoms can get in the way.

Two energy levels of each ion are selected to represent the ‘0’ and ‘1’ qubit states and these can then be put in a quantum superposition, where the result can be either a ‘0’ or ‘1’ at the same time – this is the real power of a quantum computer that makes it completely different from a regular computer. 

Find out more:

Image: Single atom in an ion trap, by David Nadlinger