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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S015973/1
Title: Microwave and Terahertz Field Sensing and Imaging using Rydberg Atoms
Principal Investigator: Weatherill, Professor KJ
Other Investigators:
Adams, Professor CS
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
M Squared Lasers Ltd
Department: Physics
Organisation: Durham, University of
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 May 2019 Ends: 30 June 2022 Value (£): 568,448
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
RF & Microwave Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
04 Sep 2018 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel September 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Microwave and terahertz technologies play a critical role in modern life. Microwaves underpin mobile and satellite communications and are used for radar in navigation and meteorology. At higher frequencies, terahertz technologies are used to perform chemical sensing, non-invasive imaging, condition monitoring and more. These applications, and others, require fast detectors offering high sensitivity and the ability to perform spatially resolved imaging, which is particularly challenging in the terahertz domain where the majority of detectors require cryogenic cooling and offer slow thermal response times with limited absolute accuracy.

In this proposal we seek to address this technology gap by developing a new class of atom-based sensors that exploit the extreme sensitivity of highly-excited Rydberg atoms which act as antennae to provide precision electric field measurement across the microwave and terahertz frequency range. Using lasers to excite Rydberg atoms in a thermal vapour cell, the radio-frequency fields can be measured from the resulting perturbation in the transmission of a weak probe beam.

Atom-based sensors provide a number of advantages over traditional electric field measurement techniques; namely (i) they are intrinsically calibrated by relating the atomic properties to SI units to provide full measurement traceability, (2) act as point-like antenna for an in-situ measurement of the field, and (3) can be optically probed to enable sub-wavelength resolution of the radio-frequency field under study.

The proposed research programme will explore a number of key challenges to implementing Rydberg-atom-based electric field sensors, including optimising the cell materials and geometry to minimise the perturbation or suppression of the applied field and developing measurement techniques to achieve the fundamental limits of sensitivity and accuracy. To address these challenges we will combine UK based expertise, including the pioneers of optical detection of Rydberg atoms, to fabricate and characterise atomic vapour cells compatible with microwave and terahertz measurements and demonstrate precision field measurement and 2D imaging of structured radio-frequency fields. To verify the device accuracy we will compare the performance of our sensors to state-of-the-art calibrated references at the National Physical Laboratory. Finally, we will demonstrate real-world application of the sensors to areas including all-optical microwave communication schemes similar to WiFi and characterisation of the complex near-field emission from a terahertz antenna array. These sensors offer a new approach to radiofrequency sensing, imaging and metrology and provide a route to achieving enhanced sensitivity at microwave frequencies whilst providing an enabling technology for emerging applications in the terahertz domain.
Key Findings
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