UKRI invests millions to spur Britain’s quantum leap

The famous Schrodinger cat thought experiment infamously highlights how bizarre quantum mechanics can be.

Seventeen new UK projects will tackle fundamental research questions with quantum technology, from the exploration of antimatter gravity to dark matter detection.

UK Research and Innovation is investing £6 million towards that endeavour and in support of its existing Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics programme.

The programme receives joint funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The grants encourage high-risk discovery and aim to demonstrate how quantum tech can solve long-standing questions in fundamental physics.

Professor Grahame Blair, STFC Executive Director, Programmes, said:

This new cohort of projects should make a valuable contribution to our understanding of the universe using cutting-edge quantum tech such as quantum computing, imaging, sensing and simulations.

The new grants continue to support the UK research community in exploring the diversity of quantum technology applications for fundamental science, from neutrino mass studies to searches for violations of fundamental symmetries of nature.

Dr Michael Vanner, of Imperial College London, is principal investigator for one of the successful projects. He said:

Very excitingly, this grant gives us the support to utilise the tools and techniques we’ve developed for quantum technologies to tackle a fascinating question about fundamental physics.

Dr Vera Guarrera, from the University of Birmingham, is co-investigator for one of the projects added:

This grant will allow us to realise a very cold crystal of laser-cooled calcium ions, where we will implant a highly-charged ion of an element called californium.

The crystal will be used to decrease the temperature of the highly-charged ion close to the absolute zero, a process known as sympathetic cooling.

This is a fundamental step for the realisation of an atomic clock based on californium highly-charged ions.

Such a unique clock is expected to realise the most sensitive detector worldwide of ultra-light dark matter.

Example projects include synthesising quantum states of sound and listening to what they tell us about the universe

The Schrodinger cat thought experiment infamously highlights:

  • how bizarre quantum mechanics can be
  • the limitations of our understanding of the fuzzy boundary between the quantum and classical aspects of our world.

Using quantum technologies and our now exquisite ability to control the quantum nature of light, this project seeks to illuminate and examine this boundary. This is done by creating quantum states of high-frequency sound waves in a tiny crystal cooled to near absolute zero in temperature.

Acting as a powerful lens

More than a quadrillion atoms will participate in these sound waves. This is a mass-scale that is truly gigantic from the perspective of the quantum realm, but still microscopic from the perspective of our everyday world.

Generating and studying quantum behaviour at this mass-scale will act as a powerful new lens through which we can examine the very foundations of physics and shed much needed light on:

  • why do we not see quantum behaviour in our everyday world?
  • why are quantum states so fragile?
  • does gravity even play a role at this boundary?

Quantum sensing for antimatter gravity

According to our current understanding of physics (embodied by the Standard Model of particle physics), we should not exist!

Our solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy, and the entire observable Universe seem to be composed only of matter.

The Standard Model insists that when energy was converted to matter after the Big Bang, an equal amount of antimatter should also have been created. This idea, which is based on deep symmetries, is not consistent with the matter-dominated Universe in which we seem to exist.

In order to explain this, it is important to test the properties of antimatter in all possible ways, looking for a small crack in the matter-antimatter symmetry.

QSAG project

The quantum sensing for antimatter gravity (QSAG) project seeks to test whether antimatter and matter have the same gravitational interactions. This is achieved by measuring the effects of gravity on positronium, a unique system composed of an electron (matter) bound to a positron (antimatter) in a hydrogen-like atom.

QSAG will employ (anti)matter-wave interferometry using highly-excited (Rydberg) states of positronium to measure the effects of the Earth’s gravity field, and thereby perform the first direct measurement of antimatter-gravity.

Read more about the National Quantum Technologies Programme.

Funded projects:

The 17 funded projects include researchers from 18 different institutions across the UK:

Quantum sensing for antimatter gravity

Institution: UCL

MeVQE: A world-leading centre for MeV scale entanglement physics

Institution: University of York

Development of levitated quantum optomechanical sensors for dark matter detection

Institution: UCL

Simulating high energy physics with quantum photonics

Institution: University of Bristol

ParaPara: A quantum parametric amplifier using quantum paraelectricity

Institutions: Lancaster University, UCL

Quantum computing for nuclear physics

Institution: University of Surrey

Supercooled cosmological simulator

Institution: Newcastle University

Testing theories of dark energy using atom interferometry

Institutions: Imperial College London, The University of Nottingham

Differential atom interferometry and velocity selection using the clock transition of strontium atoms for AION

Institutions: Imperial College London, University of Oxford, STFC laboratories, University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge

Penrose processes in an analogue black hole formed in hybrid light-matter (polariton) superfluid

Institution: The University of Sheffield

Synthesising quantum states of sound and listening to what they tell us about the universe

Institution: Imperial College London

Quantum simulation algorithms for quantum chromodynamics

Institution: University of Cambridge

Accelerating the development of novel clocks for measuring varying fundamental constants

Institutions: University of Birmingham, Imperial College London

A quantum jump sensor for dark matter detection

Institution: Imperial College London

Increasing the science reach for quantum enhanced interferometry

Institutions: Cardiff University, University of Strathclyde, University of Birmingham, University of Warwick, University of Glasgow

Trapped electron for neutrino mass measurement

Institution: University of Sussex

Levitated Quantum Diamonds

Institutions: University of Warwick, UCL

Source: UK Research and Innovation.

Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to:


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