University of Oxford - Equipment Account

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics


In the last half century of human history we have seen an incredible revolution in our ability to process and disseminate information, with the rise of computers, high speed communication networks, and the internet. The pace of progress is still extremely high, but a major challenge is on the horizon, as the size of processing devices shrinks to approach the scale of single atoms. At such tiny length scales, the physics governing the operation of electronic devices changes fundamentally to obey the laws of quantum mechanics, and computer processors could no longer operate in the conventional way that they do today. This approaching horizon is both a challenge and an opportunity. It has now long been known theoretically that quantum mechanics can in fact be used to carry out computing and communication in ways that are impossible with 'classical' systems, and a large research effort is now underway across many scientific disciplines to realize such quantum communication and computation in a practical way.

In this fellowship, a variety of promising candidate systems for use as quantum bits (qubits) on future quantum electronic chips will be brought together and investigated in a truly quantum coherent manner. Static qubits made from superconducting electric circuits, and electrons trapped in islands on semiconductor chips will be coupled to 'flying' qubits in the form of quanta of light (photons) and quanta of vibrational motion (phonons) on electronic chips cooled to their lowest quantum mechanical energy state at close to absolute zero. The research will address key questions of how long the fragile quantum nature of information can last in such systems, how the different systems can be made to interact and exchange quantum information, and how they can be brought together to ultimately form the basic building blocks of future quantum computers, such as quantum logic gates and quantum memories.

A particular focus of the research is to explore the potential of a system known as cavity QED in which the interaction between atoms (or static qubits) and light (or flying qubits) is enhanced by trapping the light between mirrors that form a cavity. Such a system makes it possible to observe the exchange of energy or information between the atoms/qubits and the light at a much higher rate than in free space. In this particular project, this scenario is realized with microwave frequency photons or phonons trapped on the surface of an electronic chip, with static qubits fabricated in place inside the on-chip cavities. This architecture for cavity QED, and for quantum computing, is thought to be highly promising since scaling it up to larger numbers of qubits may be achieved using conventional processor fabrication techniques that exist today.

Planned Impact

The new technology of quantum information processing (QIP) has the potential to have a major impact on society once realized. This is expected to occur within a timescale of several decades. Some already well identified applications will be in secure communication, high performance computing, and complex simulation (in particular of intrinsically quantum systems, which are at the heart of chemistry, biochemistry and nanotechnology). The work to be carried out in this project will contribute to the advancement of this global field, and will raise the profile of UK research within it. Large IT corporations are already beginning to invest in QIP research, and the published results of the work to be pursued in this project will be directly usable in their R&D departments. Direct engagement with such companies will be considered as the project progresses, dependent on success.

The practical and exploratory nature of the specific investigation of surface phonons at a quantum level in this proposal may lead to near-term applications in highly sensitive detectors, benefitting the UK economy through generation of IP and potentially spin-off companies.

Active communication of the new research with young people in both universities and schools will inform and raise awareness of quantum science in general, enhance science education, and motivate more young people to consider higher science education and scientific careers, in particular in physics. Participation in local outreach programmes will contribute to local culture, and improve general public understanding and awareness of quantum mechanics and related research. Explanation of published research results in layman's terms through various media will be undertaken, and will contribute to the communication of the impact of public research funding.
Description Of the 11 funding streams on Oxford's Equipment Account several are now maturing to a stage where non-academic impact is materialising, including: South of England Analytical Electron Microscope [ATEM]: A collaboration between the group of Prof Nellist and the instrument supplier (JEOL) has led to the development of a new product: a fast universal STEM detector. Mobile Robotics: Enabling a Pervasive Technology of the Future: The infrastructure free navigation and perception algorithms and software developed to run on Oxford's Robotcar have found application beyond the vehicle itself, for example the vision system has been licensed for use on the ESA ExoMars mission.
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Transport,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Linking Microstructure to Neutron Irradiation Defects in Advanced Manufacture of Steels
Amount £401,198 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P005640/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 11/2019
Title Cluster Deposition Tool 
Description This tool is a cluster of multiple thin film vacuum deposition chambers all attached to central handlers, under high vacuum. This tool will enable significant advances in the deposition of multi layer highly functional electronic devices, including solar cells, transistors, LEDs and spintronic devices. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This tool is going to come on line in 2020. and be available for use by the research community as part of a National Research Facility. 
Description South of England Analytical Electron Microscope [ATEM] schools demonstration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The instrument has been used for outreach activities including students on a summer school from the Northwest Science Network (an Oxford-led outreach initiative working with a network of state schools in the northwest of England) who were able to see atoms in real time, exploring a sample and adjusting the microscope.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016