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Jennifer Choy and Mikhail Kats
August 23, 2023

Choy leads team awarded National Science Foundation Quantum Sensing Challenge Grant

Written By: Staff


The National Science Foundation has selected a proposal “Compact and robust quantum atomic sensors for timekeeping and inertial sensing” by an interdisciplinary team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers for a four-year, $2 million Quantum Sensing Challenge grant.

Jennifer Choy, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering is serving as primary investigator of the project. Co-PIs include Mikhail Kats, Jack St. Clair Kilby and Antoine-Bascom Associate Professor in electrical and computer engineering, Mark Saffman, professor of physics, Swamit Tannu, an assistant professor of computer science, and Dan Blumenthal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

When atoms are cooled to almost absolute zero, they take on certain quantum properties. These cold atoms have been shown to be extremely accurate elements in quantum sensors. Unfortunately, using these cold-atom systems outside of the lab has proven difficult due to their size, complexity and sensitivity to things like ambient temperature and electromagnetic fields. In their project, Choy and her team plan to overcome these challenges and develop compact and robust cold atom sensors.

To miniaturize these systems and make them more rugged, the team plans to develop and integrate a set of photonic chip-scale hardware and algorithms, comprising a “quantum sensor toolkit,” that includes lasers and optics, optimized quantum algorithms for sensor fusion and calibration, and optimal leveraging of quantum entanglement.

These sensors could be used in portable devices like accelerometers and atomic clocks that could be used to take measurements in harsh conditions, like outer space or the poles, and that could guide vehicles where GPS is not available.

“We have assembled a multi-disciplinary team to tackle practical issues, such as size constraints and undesired sensor noise from the environment, that are associated with implementing cold-atom sensors in the field,” says Choy. “We are excited to start working together to co-develop and integrate photonic hardware and sensor algorithms that can miniaturize and ruggedize cold-atom inertial sensors and clocks.”

In total, the NSF selected 18 research teams from across the U.S. for the $29 million program. “For decades, scientific exploration at the quantum scale has yielded surprising discoveries about how our universe works — and tantalizing possibilities for quantum-enabled technologies,” says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “We are now taking the next step in quantum research through these projects and others, which combine fundamental research with potential applications that can positively impact our lives, our economic prosperity and our competitiveness as a nation.”

Read more about all the projects on the NSF website.

Top photo caption: Assistant Professor Jennifer Choy (left) and Jack St. Clair Kilby and Antoine-Bascom Associate Professor Mikhail Kats