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DEFENCE DEPARTMENT FUNDS QUANTUM MECHANICS RESEARCH

16-04-2019
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Professor Andre Luiten, University of Adelaide

Researchers from the University of Adelaide will develop three technologies after being named among 11 projects to share $6.6 million of funding from Australia’s Department of Defence.

The projects are underwater devices to detect submarines and an ultra-accurate portable clock to improve GPS satellite technology, as well as research into whether quantum radars can be used to detect stealth aircraft.

The funding consolidates the university’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) as one of Australia’s leading centres for the development of quantum sensing and photonic technologies.

IPAS director Professor Andre Luiten says the funding also reaffirms the Department’s interest in developing quantum mechanic capabilities in South Australia.

“Everyone believes that there’s going to be a revolution over the next 20 years where quantum technologies end up in everything,” he says. “The initial objective is to provide those technologies to defence but it’s also about training up Australian students so they have an understanding of quantum technologies. Australia needs to build up its sovereign capability in this area and train students.”

The Department’s Next Generation Technologies Fund aims to develop Australia’s opportunities in quantum mechanics, which is based on the motion of subatomic particles and the interactions between them.

The first project will use magnetometers to track submarine activity by detecting variations caused by the presence of ferrous (unoxidized) iron in the total magnetic field.

“These magnetometers can detect very small magnetic fields,” Professor Luiten says. “The goal of this project is to build sensors that go on the seabed which detect the presence of submarines through their properties. You’d essentially set up a trip wire around assets that are of importance to Australia.”

The second project will harness billions of cold atoms to provide ultra-precise timing to improve the Deparment’s GPS technology.

University of Adelaide scientists will work with researchers from Griffith, Curtin, La Trobe and Queensland Universities to develop an optical clock that uses pure green light to tick 500 trillion times per second. This will be used to determine the locations of entities through assessing time signals emitted from satellites through ticking.

“This clock will improve the capabilities that determine location because as you can imagine Defence is very interested in knowing where its assets are,” says Professor Luiten. “It’s the same sort of idea – we’re looking at metal objects that have been moved behind a wall or looking for submarines.”

The third project will researching whether quantum radars can be used to detect stealth aircraft. Project lead Professor David Ottaway says quantum radar technology uses new states of light to detect things.

“It’s a real out-there project, so this is really an information gathering exercise at this point,” he says. “I’m highly sceptical but if this technology works we’d be able to use existing technology with less power.

“We’d also be able to use the technologies more sensitively so you can see our targets further away, and we’d solve the problem with active systems of when you illuminate something your subject can often track you and find out where you are.”

IPAS is also assisting Melbourne’s RMIT University with an additional project under the Next Generation Technologies Fund, which is designed to test the capabilities of diamonds detecting weak magnetic fields.

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