New atom interferometer - fringes, quantum sensors and a UK first

Atom Interferometer

OUR new atom interferometer - fringes, quantum sensors and a uk first

M Squared has developed the first commercial atom interferometer in the UK, opening up the possibility of disrupting a whole new range of industries and marking an important milestone for M Squared and our partners at the UK Quantum Technology (QT) Hub for Sensors.

What is atom interferometry?

Atom interferometry is a powerful technique that can be used to make extremely sensitive measurements of inertial forces. According to quantum mechanics, clouds of ultra-cold atoms can be made to interfere with each other, much in the same way as ripples of water in a pond. Combining this phenomenon with finely tuned laser beams that act as a ruler for atoms in free fall, we are developing a ‘quantum sensor’ for making very precise measurements of gravitational acceleration. 

Demonstrating quantum interference

We recently demonstrated quantum interference in our system for the first time, as verified by the ‘fringes’ produced in a Ramsey spectroscopy experiment:


M Squared’s SolsTiS laser system was used to cool Rubidium atoms down to the micro-Kelvin temperatures required for quantum interference to be observable. By measuring changes in the position of the fringes on a very fine scale, we can demonstrate ultra-precise measurements of gravitational acceleration in a portable device.

Developing simplified quantum control systems

As a result of our work with the Hub, we identified the need to develop simplified control systems to operate our cold atom experiments and interferometer. We went on to build a fully integrated FPGA-based, frequency generator and control system called Ice Bloc DCS (pictured below). It's the first commercial product emerging from the UK Quantum Technology Initiative.

Ice Bloc DCS

Working together to make great things happen

Our atom interferometer is being developed in conjunction with the fantastic team at the UK’s National QT Hub for Sensors and Metrology at the University of Birmingham, in what can only be described as a very successful working partnership. We've all dedicated significant time and effort to make this happen as well as participating in 3 Knowledge Transfer Secondments and 3 Innovate UK projects in the process of reaching our commercial targets. 

It is vital for businesses like ours to have access to R&D initiatives that will make a difference to our sector globally so that we can hone our technologies in sandbox-style conditions. Innovate UK's support and funding has been vital in ensuring the rapid progression of this technology on the journey towards commercialisation.

Only last year, we collaborated with the QT Hub for Sensors and Metrology on the successful development of the UK’s first commercial cold atom experiments, now we have an operating atom interferometer. Our next step will be to bring the Hub’s world-leading diode laser system technology to market. 

New opportunities for industry

Behind the commercial success of the technologies in development with the UK QT Hub for Sensors and Metrology is the end goal - smaller, lighter and cheaper components that make quantum devices a commercial reality.

We know there will be some phenomenal opportunities opening up thanks to this new technology, opportunities to build the ‘big guns’ – technologies like gravimeters, accelerometers and magnetometers – to change the way we conduct medical imaging and brain diagnostics, locate oil and gas pipes and other civil infrastructure to detect leaks and sinkholes, conduct archaeological surveys, build navigation toolkits, assess rail tracks for wear and tear, develop network timing, and conduct groundwater and space missions.

Article by Dr Graeme Malcolm OBE


About Dr Graeme Malcolm OBE

Graeme is CEO and Co-Founder of world-leading laser and photonics technology company M Squared, which supplies world-leading research institutions including universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow and Birmingham in the UK and MIT, Harvard, and Stanford in the USA, supporting Nobel-Prize-winning research.

Since starting the company in 2006, Graeme has established M Squared as one of Britain’s fastest, most disruptive technology businesses. The company not only develops its own range of research tools for scientific researchers; it partners with research bodies the world over to develop novel applications that have the potential to tackle global problems. 

Graeme has played a key role in the development of a range of award-winning photonics systems, which are critical enablers in fundamental physics research, underpinning many world firsts. He is a visiting Professor and Entrepreneur in Residence at the Institute of Photonics at the University of Strathclyde and a Member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Young Academy of Scotland. He has authored and co-authored 62 papers and conference proceedings and has secured 59 patent families with 196 individual filings worldwide. Graeme was awarded an OBE in 2015 for his services to Science and Innovation and the 2016 Institute of Physics Swan Medal.

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