Quantum Shorts

The finalists of the Quantum Shorts film festival are announced!

Quantum Shorts is an annual public engagement competition organised by the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore and involving many scientific partners, including the UK’s own National Quantum Technologies Programme (via its outreach arm – Quantum City). The competition alternates each year between short films and flash fiction and this year, it’s all about the films!

After the Quantum Shorts film festival launched its call for entries in September 2022, filmmakers responded with 232 quantum-inspired films from 58 different countries – the most in the film festival’s history. The festival now presents its nine finalists.

The finalists hail from Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each film gives a different take on quantum physics in less than five minutes. Viewers will see dancers perform an interpretation of the observer effect, abstract audiovisual pieces probe space and time, and the many-worlds interpretation made into quantum comedy, among others.

"As a scientist, it was astonishing to see the range of interpretations of quantum physics: from entangled human feelings, over quantum as a form of destiny, to hypothetical future catastrophes,” says shortlisting judge Mariagrazia Iuliano at QuTech. “It is also impressive to experience how a rigid and strict physical model – which cannot be experienced in daily life – is brought to life in artistic movies.” 

For making the shortlist, these entries win a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American and a USD 250 screening award. The finalists could be up for more honours. The First Prize and Runner Up of the festival will now be decided by Quantum Shorts’ eminent judges. You could have a say too. We invite you to cast your vote for the People’s Choice prizeVoting is now open on the Quantum Shorts website and closes at 11:59 PM GMT on 27 March 2023.

To enjoy the films, dive straight into them via the festival website at shorts.quantumlah.org, where you
can also find interviews with the filmmakers revealing behind-the-scenes stories.

In alphabetical order, the shortlisted films are:

  • Boundary Of Time – Using old-school visual effects techniques, Director Kevin Lucero Less creates a metaphor for the arrow of time in this abstract short film
  • Missed Call – A student grapples with his father’s health crisis at a distance in this short by Director Prasanna Sellathurai
  • The Heart of the Matter – Filmmaker Betony Adams presents an atomistic take on the meaning of life while paying tribute to Louis de Broglie’s discovery of the wave nature of electrons
  • The Human Game – Director Dani Alava portrays a dystopian future with quantum machines 
  • THE observer – An artistic take on the observer effect through screendance, a hybrid medium of cinematography and choreography, by Director Alma Llerena
  • WHAT IS QUANTUM? – Using a combination of live action, green screen and stop-motion animation, Michael, Emmett and Maxwell Dorfman give their take on what quantum physics is.
  • Clockwise – Inspired by Zeno’s Paradox and the recursive subdivision of space and time, Director Toni Mitjanit presents an experimental audiovisual piece of colour and tessellation
  • Continuum – In this audiovisual film, the StoryBursts team, consisting of members from Australia and Singapore, give a creative response to research on gravitational waves by Dr Linqing Wen at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav)
  • Many Excuses Interpretation – In this quantum comedy by Paul, Felix, Alfie, Petra and Ezra Ratner, two brothers argue over broken gadgets and the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics

Congratulations to the finalists!

New Scientist Live

Visiting New Scientist Live

Visiting New Scientist Live

Carlos Nino Sandoval is studying at the University of Birmingham for a PhD in Physics. Before this, Carlos completed his undergraduate degree in Physics in Colombia, and his master’s degree in Engineering in Germany, and then spent nine years working in multisectoral companies and organisations coordinating projects around metrology – the science of measurements - for national and international markets.

New Scientist Live is the perfect way to bring together new technological challenges and innovative applications. There are lots of applications on show and exhibitors are always willing to answer any questions. The audience is varied with children, students and adults. I noted how some of the visitors were surprised by the simple and clear way of explaining the science. It doesn't matter how old you are, and how much knowledge you have about something – if you have the motivation to ask, then you have made the first step in science.

Among the exhibits which received much attention was Quantum City, an exhibit hosted by the four Quantum Technology Hubs, part of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme. For many of the visitors, Quantum City marked the first time viewing applications related to quantum science. Researchers from the Quantum Communications Hub, Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing and National Physical Laboratory at the Quantum City exhibit managed to capture the attention of students and adults alike by explaining the scientific background of the research in clear detail, as well as how the technologies will be used in the real world.  

One of the demonstrators which drew many visitors was presented by Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing researchers. This demonstrator uses quantum sensor technology for brain sensing: the development of this technology seeks, among other things, to study brain diseases in a more precise and non-invasive way. This study offers greater tools to understand this type of disease and, over time, develop more effective treatments.

National Physical Laboratory also presented at the Quantum City exhibit with several experiments around metrology, showing how quantum technology has been used to establish new standards in measurements.

New Scientist Live offered a wide variety of exciting innovative technologies for different sectors. For example, how robots will soon be able to perform high-risk surgeries with greater precision. And also, how prevention technologies will help prevent disastrous explosions, such as the detection of early gas leaks.

New Scientist Live is taking place again in 2023. You can register your interest to receive more information about the next event at the New Scientist Live website: https://live.newscientist.com/register-interest-new-scientist-live-2023.


Electric vehicle battery

Enhancing battery performance with quantum sensors

A new project aimed at harnessing quantum technology to enhance vehicle battery performance has been awarded Partnership Resource Funding by the University of Birmingham-led UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing.

The project, led by University of Sussex researchers, addresses a crucial need to increase battery energy density, longevity and safety. It will mark the first time quantum sensors are used as a solution in battery innovation.

Improving vehicle battery technology is key in delivering the Government’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which confirms the UK will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. In order to meet these and other national and international decarbonisation targets, substantial research and development in these areas is urgently needed.

The project, which also includes the Universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh as part of the consortium, aims to do exactly this by translating existing highly sensitive world-leading quantum magnetometer technology to an industrial-grade imaging device, to accurately examine the battery’s microscopic current flows. This technology will facilitate rapid assessments of new and existing battery chemistries to accelerate the creation of superior battery technology.

As with all the technology in development at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, which partners with the Universities of Sussex, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Southampton, Nottingham, Imperial College London, NPL and the British Geological Survey, the aim is to develop small, low power, portable devices that require no infrastructure and minimal running costs, suitable for economical production.

The increased battery energy and power density can also be exploited to continue the electrification transport, such as moving to electric aircrafts.

Academics will also work closely with CDO2, Magnetic Shields Ltd and QinetiQ to work towards their goal of developing a viable sensor prototype ready for handover to industry for commercial exploitation. In particular, Magnetic Shields Ltd will provide the required magnetic noise-free environment to allow the sensor technology to be tested with unprecedented sensitivity.

Professor Peter Kruger, Research Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Sussex, said: “We hope, through this project, to initiate an increase in the creation of new battery technologies through a better understanding of battery performance.”

“By facilitating improvements in battery energy density, manufacturing costs, battery lifetime and safety we hope to reduce carbon emissions and waste production globally.”

David Woolger, Director at Magnetic Shields Ltd, said: “We are delighted to be providing the necessary equipment and facilities to help develop this imaging technology, and look forward to the next steps towards commercial exploitation.”

Innovation in magnetometer devices will also bring synergistic benefits in other part of the Quantum Technology Hub, such as biomedical imaging.

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

Underground infrastructure

Quantum goes deeper

Experts in quantum cold-atom sensors are delving deep underground in a new project aimed at harnessing quantum gravity sensing technology in harsh underground borehole environments.

The Gravity Delve project, funded by Innovate UK, brings together academics from the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, which is led by the University of Birmingham and Nemein Ltd, with the aim of investigating the benefits and challenges associated with using quantum gravity sensors down boreholes.

Quantum gravity sensors based on atom interferometry are already being developed for use in the oil and gas sector. Quantum cold-atom sensors designed to operate on the surface will be able to detect and monitor objects beneath the ground better than any current technology. However, little attention has been paid to-date to the benefits that borehole deployable quantum gravity sensors could have. Gravity Delve aims to address this.

Nemein is developing borehole deployed equipment primarily focussed on energy harvesting and environmental sensing. The new technology will enable the quantum sensor developed by the University of Birmingham to venture out of the lab and into the extremely harsh downhole environment.

Dr Jamie Vovrosh, of the University of Birmingham, is technical lead for the project. He says: “This project provides us with the opportunity to investigate using the extraordinary performance of quantum cold-atom sensors in new applications and to potentially open up a pathway towards realising future economic and societal benefits.”

Borehole applications to be investigated in the project will include Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and hydrocarbon and geothermal reservoirs. Existing techniques for reservoir optimisation include conventional microgravity, electrical and nuclear logging. These techniques however are limited by sensitivity, resolution and cost. Gravity Delve is investigating how a commercially relevant quantum device could replace or enhance current technology to optimise CCS reservoirs, minimise the environmental impact from hydrocarbon extraction and enhance the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy such as geothermal. The project will develop a design for an innovative borehole quantum cold-atom gravity sensor, as well as the associated harsh environmental packaging and ancillary equipment. This will lead to the first cost effective and efficient method deep borehole quantum sensor deployment.

Mr Lawrence Till, Co-founder of Nemein, says: “Gravity Delve is not just a project which will optimise CCS and borehole energy extraction. It is very significant as a relatable project to show Quantum Technology can be deployed in some of the harshest environments in the real world and demonstrate tangible benefits to the environment.”

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

Digging into the ground

Testing quantum gravity sensors with the British Geological Survey

The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, led by the University of Birmingham, have partnered with the British Geological Survey, a world-leading geoscience centre for survey and monitoring, to further develop quantum gravity sensors in its second phase.

Gravity sensors developed by academics at the Quantum Technology Hub have progressed rapidly during the Hub’s first phase from lab research to prototype instruments. The new partnership with BGS will enable sensors to be tested in real-world environments.

Dr Paul Wilkinson, a Theoretical Research Geophysicist at BGS, said: “We were very pleased to be invited to participate directly in the second phase of the Hub to help develop quantum gravity sensors for use in geophysical surveys and applications.” Dr Wilkinson is working within the Hub’s Geophysics work package, led by Dr Michael Holynski and Professor Nicole Metje, from the University of Birmingham, to set up field trials to test and evaluate quantum gravity instruments and engage with end users.

The development of quantum gravity sensors through to commercial use has the potential to be hugely impactful. It will mean that we will have a much more accurate understanding of what lies beneath the ground. For example, in 2014-15, road occupation due to utility street works incurred costs of more than £1.5 billion, and traffic delays accounted for 6.16 million days of work in the UK. The cost of these street works to the UK economy was estimated around £7 billion, and the projected cumulative total cost of utility street works in the UK from 2013 and 2030 is £319 billion.

Costs are increased when holes are dug in wrong places, due to difficulty in ascertaining the position of underground assets. Quantum gravity sensors target fast, accurate measurements and images, helping to reduce operational costs in transport and civil engineering.

The BGS participation in the Quantum Technology Hub’s consortium, alongside the Universities of Glasgow, Imperial, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde, Sussex and NPL, is an incredibly useful asset to the development of quantum gravity sensors. The BGS operates and maintains state-of-the-art laboratories and national facilities, and has access to a wide range of test sites, allowing the prototype sensor technologies to be evaluated in field trials, to assess their technical and practical capabilities.

Field trials enable testing of sensor instruments, but also ensure that the data captured from the measurements are fit-for-purpose. The BGS have research expertise in a variety of geophysical data, imaging and monitoring methodologies, and of developing novel sensors and systems in collaboration with end users and stakeholders. An example is the PRIME (Proactive Infrastructure Monitoring and Evaluation) system. This is a low cost geoelectrical monitoring platform developed by geophysicists at the BGS, which is now in commercial use and further development with industry. It is specifically designed for remote deployment and operation to monitor geotechnical assets. PRIME is an example of geophysical technology that will be used alongside gravity sensor investigations.

Dr Wilkinson said, “You can set up this technology [PRIME] to make the same set of measurements on a regular basis, and get the data transmitted back as a time lapse sequence. The system takes the data, turns them into 3D images, and translates these into parameters that site operators are more interested in, such as moisture content, and this is delivered automatically to the end-user.”

“We aim to use geoelectrical imaging, and other geophysical techniques as well, to complement gravity investigations. Different techniques are sensitive to different properties of the subsurface, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The more methodologies you use, the greater you can reduce the uncertainty.”

Working with the Quantum Technology Hub, will, in Paul’s words, ‘help to deliver the greatest possible impact from the geophysics research being undertaken by the Hub.’

“The prospects of sensitive, stable cold-atom based sensors, alongside quantum-enhanced gravity monitoring networks, offers the potential to significantly enhance our ability to look beneath the Earth’s surface.”

“In particular, there will be exciting opportunities to investigate new joint interpretation and imaging schemes for using multiple sensor types and data streams to monitor subsurface processes.”

Regarding the overall end-user impact, Paul says this will be about “seeing into the ground without having to dig things up. If you have a site or asset that’s permanently instrumented, you can get earlier knowledge of potential problems and you don’t need to send engineers out for repeat surveys, so this can help to reduce costs and improve health and safety.”

“These are things important to society as a whole. While you may not see them, they have a big part in making people safer and helping the environment - inevitably this will have a positive effect.”

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

Dr Amrute Gadge, University of Sussex
Researcher creates fifth state of matter in living room

A researcher from the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing has created the fifth state of matter working from home using quantum technology

Dr Amruta Gadge, Research Fellow in Quantum Physics and Technologies at the University of Sussex, successfully created a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) at Sussex’s facilities despite working remotely from her living room two miles away.

It is believed to be the first time that BEC has been created remotely in a lab that did not have one before.

The research team believe the achievement could provide a blueprint for operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space.

A BEC consists of a cloud of hundreds of thousands of rubidium atoms cooled down to nanokelvin temperatures, which is more than a billion times colder than freezing.  At this point the atoms take on a different property and behave all together as a single quantum object. This quantum object has special properties which can sense very low magnetic fields.

Dr Gadge was able to make complex calculations, optimise, and run the sequence from her home by accessing the lab computers remotely. Just prior to lockdown, researchers set-up a 2D magnetic optical trap and have returned only a couple of times to carry out essential maintenance.

She said: “The research team has been observing lockdown and working from home and so we have not been able to access our labs for weeks.  But we were determined to keep our research going so we have been exploring new ways of running our experiments remotely. It has been a massive team effort.”

Peter Krüger, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Sussex, said: “We believe this may be the first time that someone has established a BEC remotely in a lab that didn’t have one before. We are all extremely excited that we can continue to conduct our experiments remotely during lockdown, and any possible future lockdowns.

"But there are also wider implications beyond our team. Enhancing the capabilities of remote lab control is relevant for research applications aimed at operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space, underground, in a submarine, or in extreme climates.” 

The Quantum Systems and Devices Group have been working on having a second lab with a BEC running consistently over the past nine months as part of a wider project developing a new type of magnetic microscopy and other quantum sensors. 

The research team uses atomic gases as magnetic sensors close to various objects including novel advanced materials, ion channels in cells, and the human brain. Trapped cold quantum gases are controlled to create extremely accurate and precise sensors that are ideal for detecting and studying new materials, geometries and devices.The research team are developing their sensors to be applied in many areas including electrical vehicle batteries, touch screens, solar cells and medical advancements such as brain imaging.

NPL Optical atomic clocks
Optical atomic clocks

The reference against which other clocks are evaluated

NPL's leading-edge optical atomic clocks have stabilities and uncertainties that surpass the performance of present-day primary frequency standards. As national standards, they provide the reference against which other clocks are evaluated. Building on the expertise gained in developing these laboratory systems, NPL are now engineering portable and compact versions, which will bring improved frequency and timing precision to navigation, sensing, communications and space-based applications.

Optical clocks generate a frequency output in the form of ultra-stable laser light. These frequencies are at several hundred terahertz, but can be divided down into microwave or radio frequencies, without loss of precision, using optical frequency combs. Optical clocks are at the leading edge of performance for both uncertainty and stability in frequency standards.

NPL is working on laboratory-based systems that will be used for the highest accuracy realisation of SI units, contributing to international time scales and ensuring consistency of time and frequency measurements around the globe. They are also used to test fundamental physical theories at unprecedented levels of precision. These compact and portable optical clocks will find much wider use; for example they could provide improved autonomy of on-board clocks in future satellite navigation systems. They could also be used as sensors of gravity potential for oil and mineral surveying or for monitoring volcanic activity, ocean currents and rising sea levels.

Key facts and data

  • NPL optical clock types: Sr, Sr+ and Yb+
  • Frequency uncertainty: approaching 1 part in 1018
  • Frequency stability: approaching 1 part in 1016 at 1 s averaging   time
  • Future gravity potential sensing capability corresponding to 1 cm height change at the Earth’s surface
Imaging with a single pixel
Imaging with a single pixel

How can you make the invisible visible?

Most cameras have many millions of pixels to capture an image and the more megapixels you have for example, in your smartphone, the better the image. But are more pixels always better or needed?

Quantic is developing cameras that have only one pixel, but when combined with the technology similar to that found in a digital cinema projector these single pixel cameras still produce video images. The advantage of a single pixel is that it is much cheaper than a multimillion pixel camera, particularly in the infrared region of the spectrum where imaging is more expensive.

Imaging in the infrared can allow firefighters to see through smoke, better monitor the ripeness of agricultural crops for efficient harvesting and detect gas leaks in heavy industry. In fact, we’ve developed a prototype camera, Gas Sight, which can detect invisible methane gas leaks and is being tested with our industry partners.

Find out more:

Image: Demonstration of imaging with a single pixel at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase, by Dan Tsantilis / EPSRC

Imaging light in flight
Imaging light in flight

How can you see around corners without looking?

Traditional cameras image the 2D intensity of a scene by measuring how much light is reflected.

QuantIC is developing camera systems that not only tell how bright the image at a particular position, but also how far away that particular bit of the object is. Light bounces off surfaces onto another and then bounces again and we take advantage of this property to probe an object that is located around an obstacle (around a corner or behind a wall). After multiple bounces, a very small amount of light that has interacted with the object around the corner will fall within the line of sight of the camera.

The object location is obtained by measuring how long it take for “light in flight” to bounce off the object and come back to the camera. Such timing systems can work at ranges from metres to kilometres.

Automatic ranging of this kind can be used in the 3D profiling of historic sites or form the basis of collision avoidance for improved vehicle safety.

Find out more: