Quantum research measures up

A University of Queensland School of Physics researcher has been recognised for his work in advanced sensor technology.

The National Measurement Institute Prize for Excellence in Measurement Techniques was awarded to ARC Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS) chief investigator Dr Michael J. Biercuk.

Dr Biercuk was acknowledged for his collaborative research into sensitive measurements of force.

The research team consisting of Dr Biercuk, the Ion Storage Group and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, demonstrated it is possible to use trapped atomic ions as extremely sensitive detectors of applied forces and electromagnetic fields.

The researchers were able to measure forces with extraordinary sensitivity – down to the yoctonewton (yN) level. The yoctonewton represents one septillionth of a newton, the unit of force named after physicist Sir Isaac Newton.

Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr, who announced the award in September, said the prize reinforced Dr Biercuk’s contribution to science.

“This award recognises Dr Biercuk’s research in the most sensitive measurement of force to date – the yoctonewton,” Mr Carr said.

“This is an incredibly small force – about a million million billion times smaller than the force exerted by a feather lying on a table. The measurement is a thousand times more sensitive than anything previously possible,” Mr Carr said.

This work is part of a strategic research focus on quantum-enhanced sensing within the Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS).

It contributes the centre’s efforts to usher-in a new generation of advanced sensor technologies for scientific and technological applications.

Dr Biercuk said the discovery provides an opportunity to address new challenges in materials science, nanotechnology and industrial sensing.

“By characterising the detector’s sensitivity, a term with technical importance, rather than just the minimum force we could detect, we touched on an important area for industrial applications – the speed with which a measurement can be performed,” Dr Biercuk said.

Dr Biercuk said this has the potential to dramatically improve the speed and efficiency of standoff detection of small forces and fields – for instance, geophysical anomalies useful in mineral exploration.

“I am extremely grateful and humbled that this work was deemed significant enough to warrant this distinction, and I’m very pleased that the exciting new field of quantum science is having impacts on a variety of disciplines, including measurement science,” Dr Biercuk said.