Gravity gradient sensing on moving platforms with quantum technology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Atom interferometry uses the wave-like nature of atoms to perform ultra-precise measurements of inertial forces, such as gravity. Recent reductions in form factor have allowed these sensors to become field-deployable with several surveys highlighting their use for detecting gravitational anomalies beneath out feet such as tunnels, sink holes, aquifers and utility pipes. As part of this push, the Quantum Sensing group at the University of Birmingham has developed a portable gravity gradiometer which recently detected a tunnel buried underneath a road. The system is exceptionally resilient to field-relevant systematic effects, particularly ground vibration, with a potential to open up new applications in high-resolution sub-surface gravity mapping. One of the next key challenges is to operate the sensor in dynamic conditions, allowing us to conduct new surveys for gravity gradient map matching, a navigational tool which is resilient against loss of satellite navigation. As a step towards this, this project will present results from several trials on moving platforms including the first demonstration of gravity gradiometry measurements operating on a maritime vessel at sea. The system was characterised extensively in the laboratory and on trials in order to get a better understanding of the challenges these sensors will need to overcome in the next stage of their development. In addition, work has begun on enhancing the performance of quantum sensors on moving platforms, including high-bandwidth measurement approaches as well as optimal temporal phase control of the interferometry beams. This work will also assess the limitations of these techniques in real-world conditions, progressing the roadmap to increased robustness and practical, application-relevant demonstrations.

Planned Impact

1. Our primary impact will be by supplying the UK knowledge economy with skilled multidisciplinary researchers, equipped with the technical and transferable skills to establish the UK as pre-eminent in topology-based future technologies. The training they receive will make them proficient in the demands of the translation of academic science (with a broad background in condensed matter physics, materials science and applied electromagnetics) to industry, with direct experience from internship and industry engagement days. With their exposure to both theoretical research (including modelling and big data-driven problems) and experimental practice, our graduates will be ideally equipped to tackle research challenges of the future and communicate to a broad audience, ready to lead teams made up of diverse specialised components. The potential impact of our researchers will be enhanced by a broad programme of transferable skills, focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship and responsible research. Beneficiaries here will include the students themselves as they embark on future careers intertwining academic research and industry, as well as the other sectors listed below.

2. The research undertaken by students in the CDT will have impact on the future direction of topological science. Related disciplines, including physics, materials science, mathematics, and information technology will benefit from the cross-disciplinary fertilisation it will enable. The CDT will not only provide an interface between research in physical sciences and engineering, but also provide a route for academia to interact effectively with industry. This will help organise researchers from different disciplines to collaborate around the needs of future technology to design materials based on topological properties.

3. Our research will enable industries to set the direction of topological research around the needs of commercial research and development, leading to wealth generation for the UK, and to influence the mindset of the next generation of future technologists. Specifically, topological design has the promise to revolutionise devices and materials relevant to communications, microwave and terahertz technologies, optical information processing, manufacturing, and cybersecurity. Through partnership with organisations from the wider knowledge sector, we will deepen the relationship between academic research and disciplines including IP law and scientific software development.

4. Our CDT will also have impact on the wider academic community. New specialist courses and training in transferable skills will be developed utilising cutting-edge multimedia technologies. Our international research collaborators, including prominent global laboratories, will benefit from placements and research visits of the CDT students. Our interdisciplinary research, combining the needs of academia and industry will be an exemplar of the effectiveness of the CDT model on an international stage.

5. The wider community will benefit from our organised public engagement activities. These will include direct interaction activities, such as demonstrating at the Birmingham Thinktank Science Centre, the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, local schools and community centres.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S02297X/1 01/07/2019 31/12/2027
2450776 Studentship EP/S02297X/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Adam Seedat