Breakthrough enables photonic sensing at the quantum limit

Breakthrough enables photonic sensing at the quantum limit

Technology News |
By Jean-Pierre Joosting

A Bristol-led team of physicists has found a way to operate mass manufacturable photonic sensors at the quantum limit. This breakthrough paves the way for practical applications such as monitoring greenhouse gases and cancer detection. 

Quantum sensing is poised to revolutionise today’s sensors, significantly boosting the performance they can achieve. More precise, faster, and reliable measurements of physical quantities can have a transformative effect on every area of science and technology, including our daily lives. 

However, the majority of quantum sensing schemes rely on special entangled or squeezed states of light or matter that are hard to generate and detect. This is a major obstacle to harnessing the full power of quantum-limited sensors and deploying them in real-world scenarios. 

In a paper published today, a team of physicists at the Universities of Bristol, Bath and Warwick have shown it is possible to perform high precision measurements of important physical properties without the need for sophisticated quantum states of light and detection schemes. 

The key to this breakthrough is the use of ring resonators – tiny racetrack structures that guide light in a loop and maximize its interaction with the sample under study. Importantly, ring resonators can be mass manufactured using the same processes as the chips in our computers and smartphones.

Alex Belsley, Quantum Engineering Technology Labs (QET Labs) PhD student and lead author of the work, said: “We are one step closer to all integrated photonic sensors operating at the limits of detection imposed by quantum mechanics.” 

Employing this technology to sense absorption or refractive index changes can be used to identify and characterise a wide range of materials and biochemical samples, with topical applications from monitoring greenhouse gases to cancer detection. 

Associate Professor Jonathan Matthews, co-Director of QET Labs and co-author of the work, stated: “We now know how to use mass manufacturable processes to engineer chip scale photonic sensors that operate at the quantum limit.” 

This research was supported by funds from the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging QUANTIC, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Quantum Engineering, and the European Research Council.

Paper: Advantage of coherent states in ring resonators over any quantum probe single-pass absorption estimation strategy by Alexandre Belsley, Euan J. Allen, Animesh Datta, and Jonathan C. F. Matthews is published in Physical Review Letters.

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