Archive for Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Quantum Technologies at Sussex

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by telescoper

Some good news arrived today. We had been hoping to hear it since September but it finally appeared today. It involves several physicists from the Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) Group of the Department of Physics & Astronomy in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences here at the University of Sussex who bid to participate in a major investment (of ~£270M) in quantum technology overseen by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Today we learned that Sussex physicists were successful in their applications and in fact will participate in two of the four new Quantum Technology “hubs” now being set up. One of the hubs is led by the University of Oxford and the other by the University of Birmingham. We will be starting work on these projects on 1st December 2014 (i.e. next Monday) and the initial funding is for five years. Congratulations to all those involved, not just at Sussex but also in those other institutions participating in the new programme.

For a relatively small Department this is an outstanding achievement for Sussex, and the funding gained will help us enormously with our strategy of expanding laboratory-based experiment physics on the University of Sussex campus. Since I arrived here last year it has been a priority for the School to increase and diversify its research portfolio, both to enhance the range and quality of our research itself and to allow us to teach a wider range of specialist topics at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. This particular subject is also one in which we hope to work closely with local comanies, as quantum technology is likely to be a key area for growth over the next few years.

I’m very excited by all this, because it represents a successful first step towards the ambitious goals the Department has set and it opens up a pathway for further exciting developments I hope to be able to post about very soon.

To celebrate, here’s a gratuitous picture of a laser experiment:

laser

You can find more information about the Quantum Technology hubs altogether here.

The text of the official University of Sussex  press release follows:

Sussex scientists have been awarded £5.5 million to develop devices that could radically change how we measure time, navigate our world and solve seemingly impossible mathematical equations.

The grants, received by members of the University’s Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (AMO) research group, represent part of a £270 million UK government investment announced today (26 November) to convert quantum physics research into commercial products.

Quantum technology is the applied field of quantum theory. It includes such phenomena as “quantum entanglement”, the idea that objects are not independent if they have interacted with each other or come into being through the same process, and that changing one will also change the other, no matter how far apart they are.

Members of the AMO group have become part of two major national quantum centres: the UK Quantum Technology Hub on Networked Quantum Information Technologies and the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology. These centres bring together universities and industry to develop and construct quantum technologies.

The award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will help to fund several Sussex research projects:

  • Dr Jacob Dunningham will be developing a theory to understand how remote objects can be detected with exquisite precision by making use of a networks of sensors linked by quantum entanglement.
  • Dr Winfried Hensinger, as part of one hub, will develop the quantum processor microchip architecture and a new technique of quantum processing using microwave radiation to enable the construction of a large-scale “super-fast” quantum computer. As part of the other hub, he will develop powerful portable sensors able to detect magnetic fields with unprecedented accuracy utilizing a new generation of microchips capable of holding arrays of individual charged atoms.
  • Dr Alessia Pasquazi will develop miniature, ultra-fast, photonic sources of light that form the heart of a new generation of quantum sensors and navigation devices.
  • Dr Marco Peccianti will shrink to the size of a shoe box an “optical frequency comb”, a highly accurate clock currently found only in state-of-the-art laboratories.
  • Prof Barry Garraway will design new rotation sensors for compact navigation devices using atom-chip technology.
  • Dr Matthias Keller will develop a network connecting several quantum processors through the exchange of single photons, resulting in a new version of the internet, the so-called ‘quantum internet’.

In response to the funding news, Professor Peter Coles, Head of the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, said: “Quantum sensors offer amazing possibilities for smaller and lighter devices with extraordinary precision. As a consequence, quantum theory promises revolutionary technological applications in computing, measurement, navigation, and security.”

Professor Michael Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: “This new research programme will consolidate the reputation of the University of Sussex as one of the world-leading centres for the development of ground-breaking quantum technologies.”

The research will be supplemented by a significant Sussex investment and will make use of the world-leading multi-million pound quantum technology laboratories located at the University.

Professor Coles added: “Our pioneering ‘MSc in Frontiers of Quantum Technology’ program along with numerous PhD positions will provide training for a new generation of researchers and developers to be employed in the emerging quantum technology sector.”

Greg Clark, Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities, said: “This exciting new Quantum Hubs network will push the boundaries of knowledge and exploit new technologies, to the benefit of healthcare, communications and security.

“Today’s announcement is another example of the government’s recognition of the UK’s science base and its critical contribution to our sustained economic growth”.

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EPSRC Blues

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by telescoper

I woke up this morning to find via Twitter an interesting blog post about a demonstration in London against the policies of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

For those of you not up with the ins and outs of the UK science funding regime, EPSRC is the agency that funds the more mainstream areas of physics (as well as chemistry, engineering and some mathematics) while the more exotic bits (particle physics, nuclear physics and astronomy) are the responsibility of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The current protest seems to be lead by a number of eminent chemists, including Prof. Sir Harry Kroto, Prof. Sir John Cadogan and Prof. Anthony Barrett.

Almost five years ago – was it really so long? – owing to a mixture of funding cuts and incompetent management, STFC was born into a financial crisis that made many of us doing astronomy and particle physics wish that we also were protected by the friendly hands of EPSRC rather than left out in the cold as we felt we were at STFC. Things have slowly improved at STFC, which now has an executive team that actually seems to listen to its community as well as speaking the language that Whitehall wants to hear. Funding is still tight, but STFC is a noticeably happier ship now than it was it first launched.

In the meantime, any envy we might have had about our colleagues in, e.g., condensed matter physics being safer in the EPSRC stable has now well and truly evaporated. Their strategy, “Shaping Capability“, expressed in dreadful management-speak, involves the imposition of arbitrary priorities such as the restriction of fellowship applications to certain areas chosen by The Management. Worse, its new funding rules attempt to target funding at commercially-driven research. Dark clouds are gathering in the “blue skies” under which UK science has hitherto flourished.

The unresponsive top-down character of EPSRC has strengthened under the leadership of David Delpy who must have been made in the same factory as Keith Mason, former Chief Executive of STFC, whose diplomatic skills were similarly remarkable by their absence.

For some reason, this reminds me of the following quote from Smiley’s People

In my time, Peter Guillam, I’ve seen Whitehall skirts go up and come down again. I’ve listened to all the excellent argument for doing nothing, and reaped the consequent frightful harvest. I’ve watched people hop up and down and call it progress. I’ve seen good men go to the wall and the idiots get promoted with a dazzling regularity.

I’ve argued before that I think EPSRC’s approach is fundamentally wrong. When taxpayers’ money used is used to generate immediate commercial returns, it ends up in the pockets of entrepreneurs when the research succeeds and, if it doesn’t, the grant has effectively been wasted. Commercial Impact should not be a factor in awarding public funding, because it is perfectly suited as a criterion for attracting private funding. This is why we have a national fiscal policy: the only justification for levying taxation is to fund projects which will not yield short-term economic returns. There is no reason to spend public money on commercial projects: we need to justify pure research by a non-economic valuation.

This morning EPSRC have issued a press release calling upon scientists to work together ahead of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. It doesn’t mention the demonstration, or other manifestations of unrest within the EPSRC community, but instead re-asserts the need for its so-called strategy, with a clear message not to rock the boat ahead of the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

I’ve heard that argument many times in the context of STFC during its crisis period. I firmly believe that rocking the boat in that case helped it get off the rocks. It remains to be seen whether the EPSRC protest, which is currently rather small, will gather enough momentum to make a difference. It all depends on what fraction of EPSRC scientists have actually signed up to the Delpy Agenda. Is the new campaign representative of the views of the EPSRC community? No doubt many research groups will be prospering under the new regime, at least in the short term. Time alone will tell what the long-term impact of short-termism will be.