New project to investigate quantum entanglement with sensing applications

Physicists from University of Oklahoma have received a research grant to investigate quantum entanglement for quantum-enhanced sensing applications.

Two professors from the University of Oklahoma, Arne Schwettmann and Grant Biedermann, have received $584,814 to fund research into what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

The three-year grant was provided by the Defense Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a programme led by the US Department of Defense.

Research at extremely low temperatures

Schwettmann, a professor in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy, said their research uses nearly 20,000 atoms within a gas that is cooled to extremely low temperatures. This cooling allows Schwettmann and Biedermann to study quantum entanglement, offering applications for quantum-enhanced sensing.

“In an atomic sodium gas cooled to ultracold temperatures, atoms behave like small magnets that change their orientation when they collide with each other.

“In a gas at room temperature, the collisions happen randomly and uncontrollably, but if the sodium gas cloud is cooled all the way down to about 0.00000001 degrees above absolute zero temperature, the collisions happen predictably and can be controlled via microwaves.

“The atomic magnets become correlated in this process. This correlation is what Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’, now known as quantum entanglement,” Schwettmann said.

Novel schemes of atom interferometry

The collaborative research effort combines Schwettmann’s expertise in manipulating ultracold gases with Biedermann’s expertise is in using light pulses to investigate novel schemes of atom interferometry.

“In a sense, the entangled atoms react ‘together’ to external fields, which can enhance the signal-to-noise ratio for sensing applications. This line of research will allow us to use the ultracold atoms as gravitational sensors. This is of interest for defence because gravitational fields can’t be shielded. We know that radar can be shielded, but you can’t hide an object’s gravitational signature,” Schwettmann said.

The researchers are also studying what happens when these tests are made outside of a fully controlled environment. To do so, they will study outside influences like vibrations and humidity changes to better understand how external factors could influence the performance of future quantum-enhanced sensors.

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