Editorial Feature

Technology Spotlight: Quantum Sensors in North America

In North America, quantum sensors have become a hot topic, with both the USA and Canada having an impressive number of companies and universities involved in the field.

The USA is already well-established, with numerous companies marketing quantum sensors, but Canada is looking to join them with new plans and initiatives. Both countries see value in the technology, and this interest has already produced innovative sensor designs.

north america

Image Credit: Jayjune69/Shutterstock.com

USA Government Involvement in Quantum Sensor Development

Within the last year, the US Government has invested around $1 billion into quantum technology, and quantum sensors were one field targeted by this investment. Encouraged by the advances so far, the Government has set out a plan for maintaining momentum in the field.

Efforts include guidance for diversifying sensor research and promoting cooperation between developers and users. The goal of these plans is to build a quantum market that caters to customers by making quantum sensors easy to implement in the hopes that this will drive investment. 

The USA’s National Institute of Science and Technology has a dedicated Quantum Sensors Group, which is working with industry to advance quantum sensor technology. They are a large part of the investment plan, and one of its objectives is to improve cryogenic-dependent sensors so that they become more widespread. The group is also working on X-ray spectrometry for materials analysis and microbolometers.

The Department of Defense is also interested in sensor research, as quantum gyroscopes can be used for advanced navigation, and other quantum sensors may be employed for enemy asset detection. 

LI-COR

This Nebraska-based company is well-established, having designed hardware and software for biological research for over 50 years. Recently, they have added four different quantum sensors to their product line. These sensors are all designed to measure photosynthetically active radiation- light with wavelengths suitable for photosynthesis.

LI-COR markets these sensors on their reliability, durability and potential for ecological research, and each sensor is designed for use in a different environment.

Apogee Instruments

With headquarters in Utah, Apogee Instruments have a similar product line to LI-COR, focusing on photosynthetically active radiation detectors. One of their products is their Quantum Light Pollution Sensor, designed to monitor the effects of night-time light pollution on the development of plants. This is a unique instrument that could provide new insight into how human infrastructure affects ecology.

Campbell Scientific

Another company based in Utah, Campbell Scientific produces data loggers suited to harsh conditions. These are tailored to investigate different fields, such as energy, ecology, and infrastructure. They also manufacture photosynthetically active sensors, though there is potential for the company to market other types, given their wide range of existing data loggers.

NuCrypt

Based in Illinois, NuCrypt’s main product line is various components that can build a quantum sensing system. They manufacture photon sources for measurement equipment, correlation systems for pairing photon detectors, polarization analyzers and software for integrated connection. Using this equipment, quantum phenomena can be investigated. The team running NuCrypt are experienced academics, and their company has seen success with its range of quantum sensing tools.

GEM Systems

GEM Systems produce instruments for geophysical measurements and were early adopters of quantum sensing technology. They manufacture quantum magnetometers, which can detect fine changes in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Geophysics researchers can then use this information to predict geological events and find metal deposits below the Earth’s surface. They have three magnetometers available: proton, Overhauser and optically pumped.

The proton magnetometer uses hydrogen-dense liquids as a source of protons to be polarized in a magnetic field. Overhauser magnetometers are a novel design by GEM and use a radio frequency magnetic field as an additional method of polarization. Optically pumped detectors use gaseous alkali metals, through which light travels, to detect changes in magnetic fields.

AOSense

AOSense, founded in California in 2004, produce a variety of sensing products that incorporate quantum technology. Their niche is in developing cold-atom sensors, which use atoms with finely controlled parameters to measure quantum effects. They promote their technology based on its compact design and tailor sensors for many purposes. These include quantum gyroscopes for navigation, laser-based timekeepers, and gravity measurement tools. All of these incorporate some element of quantum technology.

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com

Canadian Government Involvement

The Canadian Government is yet to unveil its Quantum Strategy, though it has been confirmed that sensor research will feature in the plans. Despite this, the National Research Council has begun the “Quantum Sensors Challenge Program”.

They are encouraging companies and universities to participate in quantum sensor research, and many novel projects have started due to this scheme. Twelve Canadian universities and five Canadian companies have already joined the program, and more may follow the arrival of the Quantum Strategy.

Rydberg Atom Sensors

One of the leading projects to come out of the Quantum Sensors Challenge Program is a collaboration organized by Quantum Valley Ideas Labs, a Canadian company that aims to bridge the gap between academic research and industry.

Building upon research done by the University of Colorado, a team investigated the potential of using Rydberg Atoms as electric field sensors.

Rydberg Atoms are atoms with one electron at very high energy, which exhibit unusual behavior when exposed to electric fields. Quantum Valley Ideas Labs are working to commercialize this research and bring a new form of quantum sensor to market.

SBQuantum

Hailing from Quebec, SBQuantum is one of the start-ups involved with the Quantum Sensors Challenge Program. They are developing quantum magnetometers with the goal of making them easy for users to install and interpret data from.

Part of this development includes bespoke algorithms for interpreting data, ensuring that users can benefit from the magnetometers with minimal technical knowledge.

References and Further Reading

Subcommittee On Quantum Information Science Committee On Science Of The National Science & Technology Council. (2022) Bringing Quantum Sensors to Fruition. National Quantum Initiative. Available at:  https://www.quantum.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/BringingQuantumSensorstoFruition.pdfcontent/uploads/2022/03/BringingQuantumSensorstoFruition.pdf

NIST. (2022) Quantum Sensors Group. Online. Available at:  https://www.nist.gov/pml/quantum-electromagnetics/quantum-sensors

LI-COR. (2022) LI-190R Quantum Sensor. Online. Available at:  https://www.licor.com/env/products/light/quantum.html

Apogee Instruments. (2022) Quantum (PAR) Sensors / Meters. Online.  Available at: https://www.apogeeinstruments.com/quantum/

Campbell Scientific. (2022) About. Online. Available at: https://www.campbellsci.com/

NuCrypt. (2022) Product Overview. Online. Available at: http://nucrypt.net/quantum-optical-instrumentation.html

GEM Systems. (2022) Advanced Quantum Magnetometer Technologies. Online. Available at: https://www.gemsys.ca/advanced-quantum-magnetometer-technologies/

AOSense. (2022)Sensors for a Quantum World. Online. Available at: https://aosense.com/

Government of Canada. (2022) Internet of Things: Quantum Sensors Challenge Program. Online.  Available at: https://nrc.canada.ca/en/research-development/research-collaboration/programs/internet-things-quantum-sensors-challenge-program

Simons, MT. Artusio-Glimpse, AB. Robinson, AK. Prajapati, N. Holloway, CL. (2021) Rydberg atom-based sensors for radio-frequency electric field metrology, sensing, and communications. Measurement: Sensors, Volume 18. (2021) Available at:https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2665917421002361   

SBQuantum. (2022) Our Solution. Online. Available at: https://sbquantum.com/our-solutions/

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