A new wave of funding has been announced by the Government for research into quantum technologies. The Treasury has today committed £94 million to the National Quantum Technologies Programme, which comprises four Quantum Technology Hubs across the UK.
The announcement means that the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, led by the University of Birmingham, will receive £23.5 million to continue the drive to develop real world applications by harnessing the power of quantum physics. These will have significant impact in sectors important to the UK.
Science Minister, Chris Skidmore said: “Harnessing the full potential of emerging technologies is vital as we strive to meet our Industrial Strategy ambition to be the most innovative economy in the world.
“Our world-leading universities are pioneering ways to apply quantum technologies that could have serious commercial benefits for UK businesses. That’s why I am delighted to be announcing further investment in Quantum Technology Hubs that will bring academics and innovators together and make this once futuristic technology applicable to our everyday lives.”
UK Research and Innovation’s Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “The UK is leading the field in developing Quantum Technologies and this new investment will help us make the next leap forward in the drive to link discoveries to innovative applications. UKRI is committed to ensuring the best research and researchers are supported in this area.”
In response to the funding announcement, Professor Kai Bongs, Principal Investigator for the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, said:
“We are delighted that the government is maintaining its commitment to the exploitation of quantum technology in the UK. This new funding will build on the enormous momentum we have already created.
“Our Birmingham-led hub for Sensors and Timing will be focusing on applications in Geo-Physics, Navigation, Brain Imaging and Precision Timing, each of which has the potential to create significant economic and societal benefit.”
Dr Simon Bennett, Director of the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, stated:
“We have forged strong links with key industry companies in order to develop quantum sensors in a commercial environment. Our aim has always been to merge academic expertise and industry experience to create ground-breaking, disruptive technology, and this will be carried through into Phase II of the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing.”
Within the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, Dr Yeshpal Singh, academic lead for quantum clocks, and Professor Chris Baker, Chair of Intelligent Sensor Systems at the University of Birmingham, are working with the National Physical Laboratory and other industry partners to develop novel applications of ultra-precise clocks in radar.
“Radar performance is fundamentally dependent upon the quality of the clock signal used,” explains Professor Baker. “For example, this is especially true when detecting tiny moving targets, such as drones, flying in a background of much larger stationary objects, such as buildings. Quantum clocks offer superior performance which, in turn, will allow all manner of small targets to be detected which otherwise are missed.”
Civil engineering is another significant area that will benefit from the implementation of quantum sensors. Currently, it is difficult to detect buried infrastructure, such as pipelines, and even large scale hazards such as sinkhole and mineshafts. This can prove to be a hurdle in the civil engineering sector, particularly when building upon land on which the underground conditions are unknown, or when carrying out road works when the pipe mapping is unclear. The implications of this uncertainty is not just financial; it is also life-threatening.
Dr Michael Holynski, lead for gravity sensor research at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, and his team work in close collaboration with industry to develop gravity sensors.
“These sensors aim to help us to better see into the underground space, for example revealing buried infrastructure or hidden hazards while also providing new tools for resilient navigation,” explains Dr Holynski. The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing is also working with academics, such as Nicole Metje, Professor of Infrastructure Monitoring, from the National Buried Infrastructure Facility, part of the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC). The Facility aims to allow researchers to develop and test new quantum sensing technologies, which will help to further knowledge of underground infrastructure.
The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, a collaboration between teams at the Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Imperial, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde and Sussex, the British Geological Survey and over 200 participating industry partners, will deliver further research aimed directly at exploitation of the technology. Particular areas of focus will be magnetometry, geophysics, navigation, timing and underpinning technology aimed at reducing the size, weight power and cost of future sensor systems.