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£31m quantum technology projects involving University of Cambridge will open up ‘new frontier in physics’

Quantum technologies that could “open up a new frontier in physics” will be used by University of Cambridge scientists to probe the mysteries of the universe, from dark matter to black holes.

Seven projects - four of them involving Cambridge - will be funded with a £31million investment from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), designed to tackle some of the greatest mysteries in fundamental physics.

A black hole (7579564)
A black hole (7579564)

A 10m atom interferometer will be built in Oxford - paving the way for larger UK experiments - use technology based on quantum interference between atoms to detect ultra light dark matter and sources of gravitational waves - such as collisions between massive black holes and violent processes in the very early universe.

Led by Imperial College London, the Cambridge team on the £7.2m AION project includes

Prof Valerie Gibson, Dr Ulrich Schneider and Dr Tiffany Harte at the Cavendish Laboratory, along with researchers from the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, the Institute of Astronomy and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. They will contribute cold-atom technology to the project, which will also contribute to MAGIS, a partner experiment in the US.

Meanwhile, £4.8million will fund the Quantum Sensors for the Hidden Sector (QSHS) project, led by the University of Sheffield, which will aid the search for axions - low-mass ‘hidden’ particles that are candidates to solve the mystery of dark matter.

Professor Stafford Withington, from the Cavendish Laboratory, who is co-investigator, said: “These particles are predicted to exist theoretically, but have not yet been discovered experimentally. Our ability to probe the particulate nature of the physical world with sensitivities that push at the limits imposed by quantum uncertainty will open up a new frontier in physics.”

Prof Withington is also involved in the Determination of Absolute Neutrino Mass using Quantum Technologies, led by UCL, which aims to solve one of the most important outstanding challenges in particle physics – determining the absolute mass of neutrinos.

A by-product of nuclear fusion in stars, neutrinos are one of the universe’s most abundant particles and therefore key to understanding the processes within stars and the make-up, origin and evolution of the universe. But they are poorly understood and the aim is to develop new spectroscopy technology capable to measure precisely their mass.

Also at the Department of Physics, Profr Zoran Hadzibabic has received funding as part of the Quantum Simulators for Fundamental Physics project, led by the University of Nottingham to develop quantum simulators capable of providing insights into the physics of the very early universe and black holes. This project hopes to simulate aspects of quantum black holes and test theories of the quantum vacuum that underpin ideas on the origin of the universe.

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