Development of a cryofree ultra low temperature environment for quantum enhanced sensors

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Physics


This proposed feasibility study brings together industrial partners from Oxford Instruments and academic partners from
Lancaster University to tackle the problem of bringing to market a user-friendly, compact, portable machine for current and
future commercial applications in quantum technologies that need low-noise, low-temperature, isolated environments in
order to function.
The effects of quantum mechanics are usually masked by noise at room temperatures and in environments that interact
strongly with the systems under observation. Extreme isolation and low temperatures are often used to remove these
nuisances, and the extreme cold and high vacuum provided by dilution refrigerators is therefore an ideal environment for
observing quantum-enhanced behaviour. Oxford Instruments have a longstanding reputation for their expertise in providing
commercial machines that deliver such environments, and the Lancaster University team is highly skilled in exploiting these
low temperatures to manipulate, exploit and measure quantum behaviour.
In this joint endeavour we will develop a new product that will help other users gain access to the ultra-low temperature
environment isolated from its surroundings. Traditional dilution refrigeration has required bulky dewars of liquid helium for
the first cooling stage. New "dry" cryogen-free dilution fridges do not need liquid helium. OI has pioneered this new
technology and is market leader. We will now take the next step of reducing the size and cost of ownership, and increasing
automation. This will increase the uptake of this technology by users in the traditional markets of university laboratories and
research institutes. It will also make it easier for industrial manufacturers to include it as a component in future equipment
and instrumentation that exploit those quantum-enhanced behaviours which require the ultra-low temperature environment.
Examples here are the prototype solid-state quantum computer qubits and information processing devices for secure
communications which are based on the properties of superconducting quantum interference devices that only work at
dilution refrigerator temperatures. Compact, automatic and less expensive fridges will be an obvious benefit in this market.
Further, and as an example of this type of new technology, we will demonstrate that this new product will provide the ideal
environment for new types of sensor technology whose performance is enhanced by quantum mechanics. Here we will
investigate how to go beyond current sensitivity and resolution limits in the sensing of magnetic fields. This is already useful
in a range of in-the-field applications from remote sensing of new oil/gas reserves to medical imaging of the brain and body.
At the moment the state-of-the-art measures the effect of magnetic fields on superconducting junctions that are made from
niobium metal and cooled only to liquid helium temperatures of 4 degrees above absolute zero. By using new cryo-free
technology we will be able to improve sensitivity in two ways. The first is by simply being colder, so that thermal noise is
reduced. The second, more exciting way, is that there are materials which only become functional at these lower
temperatures, and we will be able to investigate new devices made in new ways from these materials. For instance we will
be able to replace niobium with superconducting aluminium, and use nanofabrication techniques to make hybrid
semiconductor/superconductor/normal metal devices. We will also be able to investigate devices which contain graphene,
where the lower temperatures enable electrons to travel much greater distances within the two-dimensional graphene
sheet before being scattered from their path by noise.
The anticipated outcome of our collaboration will be a prototype-ready design for a new cryo-free system that will use
quantum-enhanced sensors to improve the detection of small magnetic fields.

Planned Impact

The commercialisation of quantum technologies depends crucially on identifying, developing and refining the supply chain
of components that form the foundations for multiple quantum systems. The partners in this collaborative proposal have
identified one such component, the cryogen-free ultra-low temperature environment, that will be essential for a range of
new instruments, applications and products that rely on quantum-enhanced effects. The industrial partner, Oxford
Instruments, along with academic partners at Lancaster University, have realised that there is the potential for a step-change improvement in the performance, usability and cost of the cryo-free products currently on the market. Further, we
are proposing to demonstrate the potential by using quantum-enhanced sensors to drastically improve the current state-ofthe-
art in magnetic field sensing. Bringing this product to market has clear economic drivers, but its development will also
have societal and environmental impact.
Advances in healthcare, environmental sensing, security, energy technology and manufacturing of high value materials will
be accelerated by quantum-enhanced technology, for instance in terms of communications, metrology and computation.
The proposed work includes a market study of how the availability of this new cryo-free environment product will impact
technology sectors in general, and also a specific study of the market potential for quantum-enhanced sensing of magnetic
fields. These sensors are used in a wide range of applications, from out-in-the-field oil/gas exploration (where the forecast
demand for remote sensing is expected to reach $318 million by 2019), to medical imaging (currently part of a $7.1 billion
market). Here the economic impact goes hand-in-hand with societal impact. Identifying new oil/gas reserves with a
minimum of environmental disturbance is essential. Using medical imaging to improve diagnostics impacts by delivering
better outcomes for the patients involved, and at reduced cost.
Oxford Instruments pioneered the development of cryo-free cooling technology to remove the dependence on liquid helium.
This is an environmental concern since helium is a non-renewable resource and as the demand for cold environments for
technological applications increases its price has been rising dramatically (by a factor of 2.5 in the last 5 years). Developing
this next level cryo-free technology will eliminate the dependence on helium while at the same time allowing for expansion
in the market to underpin new advances and applications.
Pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible, in order to bring this product to market, will enhance the research
capacity, skilled manpower and knowledge base of both university and industrial partners. Further, the existence of this
product will stimulate other academic and industrial R&D to develop new techniques and technologies that then exploit it for
different uses and end markets. The work proposed in this feasibility study will reduce the cost of cryo-free technology,
make it easier to use, and thus make it more attractive for others to combine it with their own technologies and instruments.
As the emergence of quantum technologies is starting to be realised, there is great opportunity for UK industry leading labbased
academic discoveries into product applications. Bringing Oxford Instruments and Lancaster University together in
this way to study the market demand for quantum-enhanced technology enabled by the proposed cryo-free component,
and to demonstrate a specific application in magnetic field sensing, will accelerate prototype development. This close
interaction between industry and academia, with clear goals in mind and a robust plan for exploitation, will benefit the UK
research base, maintain the market lead for a UK company, and hasten delivery of the impact of the proposed quantumenhanced


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Bradley DI (2017) On-chip magnetic cooling of a nanoelectronic device. in Scientific reports

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Bradley DI (2016) Nanoelectronic primary thermometry below 4 mK. in Nature communications

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Thompson M (2017) Graphene-based tunable SQUIDs in Applied Physics Letters

Description It is usually very difficult to observe the subtle behaviour of quantum mechanics at room temperature because the effects are drowned out by the noise of thermal agitation. For instance the electrons moving in a circuit are forever being jostled by the atoms of the material that they are moving through. However, if we can cool the circuit down to very low temperatures close to absolute zero, almost -273C, then sometimes the quantum effects can shine through as the jostling is reduced. This project brought together a team from Oxford Instruments, experts in providing these low temperatures enviroments with advanced cryogenic engineering, and a team from Lancaster University, skilled in exploiting these low temperatures to manipulate and control the quantum behaviour of electronic circuits. Together we developed a feasibility study for a new product that will allow other users to gain access to the ultra-low temperature environment isolated from its surrounding. We also demonstrated that this new product will provide the ideal environment for new types of sensor technology whose performance is enhanced by quantum mechanics. Finally, we initiated a collaboration with the National Graphene Institute in Manchester and developed a new type of sensor. This work has been published.
Exploitation Route The findings of this project have already being taken forward in a follow-on project sponsored by InnovateUK. Once the market opportunity for a lownoise cryofree refrigerator for quantum technologies had been established, we progressed to prototype construction to verify the design, performance and commercial viability, alongside accelerated development of the core sensor technology. Both the cryofree platform and the new sensors are components that could potentially be used across a range of sectors with potentially far-reaching applications.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description The feasibility study was used by our industrial partner Oxford Instruments to justify investment in a joint follow-on project. We are currently identifying the most promising application for a new type of quantum-enhanced sensor and producing a basic prototype tailored to this application. This user-friendly, adjustable and portable system demonstrates superior sensor performance, low construction cost compared to existing ultralow temperature systems, and all-electrical, fully-automatic operation. The prototype became the basis for a range of further development work on products to support solid state quantum technologies. Some of these products have now made their way to market with our industrial partner.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Other
Impact Types Economic

Description InnovateUK "Accelerating the commercial exploitation of quantum technologies"
Amount £248,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 70971-492147 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2017
Description Oxford Instruments 
Organisation Oxford Instruments
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This is/was an EPSRC/InnovateUK grant that brought together a team from the Physics Department at Lancaster University and a team from Oxford Instruments to work together on developing a cryofree ultra-low temperature platform for quantum-enhanced sensors. The proposal answered the call "Exploring the commercial applications of quantum technology". The Lancaster team explored the feasibility of new types of cryogenic solid-state magnetic sensors with greater sensitivity and functionality compared with traditional Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs)
Collaborator Contribution The Oxford Instruments team explored the feasibility of creating a new cryogenic rig that would form a component part of new products utilising quantum-enhanced solid state devices for applications in sensing, imaging, information processing, etc.
Impact Prototype sensor has been made. Prototype cryogenic platform currently under construction. Academic paper submitted as joint submission between Lancaster University and Oxford Instruments. IP protection discussions ongoing. InnovateUK follow-on funding secured.
Start Year 2015
Description 2016 National Quantum Technologies Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Joint Lancaster University and Oxford instruments exhibition stand on our InnovateUK/EPSRC project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Innovate 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Innovate 2017 Exhibition at NEC Birmingham 8 & 9 November. Team from Lancaster University joined with a team from Oxford Instruments on a display stand to promote joint developments in new cryo-free low temperature technology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017