Quantum spectrum analyzer detects full RF spectrum

February 09, 2021 // By Rich Pell
Quantum spectrum analyzer detects full RF spectrum
Researchers at the Army Research Laboratory say they have built a quantum sensor that can detect the broadest range of frequencies ever.

The new quantum sensor, say the researchers, can analyze the full spectrum of radio frequency (RF) and real-world signals. It can sample the RF spectrum from zero frequency up to 20 GHz, and can detect AM and FM radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other communication signals - opening up new potentials for soldier communications, spectrum awareness, and electronic warfare.

The Rydberg atomic sensor uses laser beams to create highly-excited Rydberg atoms directly above a microwave circuit, to boost and hone in on the portion of the spectrum being measured. The Rydberg atoms are sensitive to the circuit’s voltage, enabling the device to be used as a sensitive probe for the wide range of signals in the RF spectrum.

“All previous demonstrations of Rydberg atomic sensors have only been able to sense small and specific regions of the RF spectrum," says Dr. Kevin Cox, a researcher at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command [now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory], "but our sensor now operates continuously over a wide frequency range for the first time. This is a really important step toward proving that quantum sensors can provide a new, and dominant, set of capabilities for our soldiers, who are operating in an increasingly complex electro-magnetic battlespace."

The Rydberg spectrum analyzer and other quantum sensors, say the researchers, have the potential to surpass fundamental limitations of traditional electronics in sensitivity, bandwidth, and frequency range, and offer the potential to unlock a new frontier of Army sensors for spectrum awareness, electronic warfare, sensing, and communications - all part of the Army's modernization strategy.

"Devices that are based on quantum constituents are one of the Army’s top priorities to enable technical surprise in the competitive future battlespace," says Army researcher Dr. David Meyer. "Quantum sensors in general, including the one demonstrated here, offer unparalleled sensitivity and accuracy to detect a wide range of mission-critical signals."

Next, the researchers plan additional development to improve

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