QUAntum teraheRTZ Sensor using rydberg atoms

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Physics


The project will develop a novel terahertz (THz) detector using Rydberg atoms, which will be compact, inexpensive, room-temperature, and have high sensitivity, potentially down to single photon level. It will exploit recent breakthroughs in manipulating and interrogating atoms in Rydberg quantum states. To this aim, a "proof of concept" prototype will be built and characterised. Rydberg atoms are highly excited atoms that have one or more electrons in quantum states whose energy-level structure is similar to that of the hydrogen atom. Atoms in Rydberg states are characterised by strong response to electromagnetic fields, in particular to fields at microwave and terahertz frequencies (0.01-10 THz or 30-30000 micrometers), in effect acting as THz optical transducers. High-sensitivity THz detectors are typically bulky and require cryogenic cooling, making them unsuitable for many applications and severely limiting the uptake of THz technologies, especially in industrial settings. The Rydberg THz detector will address this problem, offering a transformative technology for THz sensing and imaging and providing a platform for industrial applications in nondestructive testing and quality control.

Planned Impact

1. Academic impact

This applied research will develop a room-temperature microwave and THz detector which will find many applications within scientific research, for example replacing the cryogenic detectors used in Astronomy, aiding the design of antennae array etc.

2. Technological impact

THz technologies are finding increasing uses all the time.
Immediate examples of industrial applications made possible by the Rydberg THz sensor include:

Condition monitoring of lubricating oils in engines and other machinery,
Condition monitoring or fuel in tanks, e.g. in shipping,
Inspection of coating uniformity, of paints or other non-metallic coatings
Nondestructive inspection for metal corrosion concealed by over-coated paint
Monitoring of moisture levels during drying in e.g. paper manufacturing.

In the longer term, this technology could be applied the a wider range of applications including;

Security scanning at airports and ports,
New high frequency wireless technologies,
New high resolution RADAR techniques,
Biological and medical scanning, etc.

3. Training

The proposal will produce highly trained personnel. The close synergy between experiment and theory and the interdisciplinary nature of the project will result in a broad training that will equip all personnel with a unique and special skill base.

4. Outreach

The researchers involved have a strong track record of outreach in local schools, hosting school visits (for the latest activity, see e.g. http://www.jqc.org.uk/news/article/primary-school-visit/2014-05-01/12663), and public lectures.
We plan to continue these activities with aim of enhancing the profile of science in our respective regions.


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Description We are able to capture high speed video in the terahertz range, a result not possible with any other technology. At the heart of our technique is a THz to optical conversion technique which takes place in atoms with very high efficiency.
Exploitation Route We are in serious discussions with industrial partners about rapidly maturing our technology into a medical diagnostic tool
Sectors Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Our finding have led to a parent application on ultra-fast THz imaging techniques. We are in discussions with a consultancy firm to facilitate licensing of the technology to a medical instrumentation company.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Societal

Description Industrial partnership with M squared lasers 
Organisation M Squared Lasers Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We use our fundamental research to inform the design of a demonstrator E-field sensor in the THz range.
Collaborator Contribution M squared provide engineering and business expertise to develop the demonstrator sensor towards higher TRL.
Impact Ph.D. Student funded. Development of demonstrator sensor underway.
Start Year 2017