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Research on the world’s most precise measurement instruments

Research on the world’s most precise measurement instruments

Press release from
© Hosan/LUH
In laser labs such as this one, DQ-mat researchers are studying the quantum sensors of the future.

DFG funds collaborative research centre DQ-mat, which is developing the next generation of quantum sensors, for an additional four years.

Even today, fundamental questions in physics remain unanswered. What a large part of the universe is made up of remains unclear, because it has so far not been possible to detect the mysterious dark matter. However, according to the known laws of nature it must exist in order to hold the universe together. Although the theories on gravity and quantum mechanics are themselves logical and established, it has not yet been possible to bring them together in a unified equation. Through the DQ-mat collaborative research centre, more than 60 physicists from Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) and the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Braunschweig, Germany’s national metrology institute, are working together to contribute to answering this and other fundamental questions. They are connecting complex quantum physics and high-precision measurement procedures in order to develop novel quantum sensors for extremely precise measurement instruments. Since the collaboration was launched in 2016 it has developed into the German centre for quantum metrology, and it is also a global leader in this area. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has now approved a further four-year extension and will provide the collaborative research centre with approximately 10 million euros in funding.

“I am very happy about the extension of the DQ-mat collaborative research centre and thank the participating researchers for their outstanding and ongoing commitment,” said Prof. Dr. Volker Epping, president of Leibniz University Hannover. “This success contributes to strengthening the key research area Quantum Optics and Gravitational Physics at our university; intensifies the strong and expanded relationships between the partners Leibniz University Hannover, PTB and DLR-SI; and could have a beneficial effect on the application for the extension of our QuantumFrontiers Cluster of Excellence.”

Falko Mohrs, Lower Saxony’s minister of culture and science, added: “The outstanding news that the collaborative research centre Designed Quantum States of Matter has demonstrated its success for a second time and received a new round of funding from the DFG shows the strength of this project and the researchers involved. My congratulations go to the team and its trend-setting development of this technology of the future! This success underscores Lower Saxony’s importance as a location for the key technology of quantum research.”

“We are extraordinarily pleased about this acknowledgement of our work, because we are at a very exciting point,” said Piet Schmidt, physics professor at LUH and PTB and the spokesperson for the collaborative research centre. “We know that something is missing from the big physical picture, and we can use our experiments and the corresponding theoretical foundations from the collaborative research centre to actually contribute to closing this gap.” DQ-mat brings together experts from the areas of metrology and quantum optics, as well as from many-particle physics and quantum information, and thus produces a unique combination.

The DQ-mat researchers’ measurement instruments are already among the most precise in the world. But to get closer to solving the big questions of physics, they need much more precise instruments. The collaborative research centre is therefore developing the next generation of quantum sensors for even more sensitive, faster and higher-resolution measurement devices such as atomic clocks and atom interferometers. Drawing on methods from quantum technology, the researchers aim to utilise the full potential of quantum mechanics for precision measurements. Their goal is to obtain measurements that are up to 100 times more precise or faster.

The researchers have already achieved important successes in the second funding period, which is currently coming to an end. For example, earlier this year they were able to stimulate the atomic nucleus of the element thorium-229 to undergo a quantum leap. What sounds unspectacular is something researchers hadn’t been able to achieve over decades and is a scientific breakthrough. It opens the door for new atomic-nucleus clocks, which could be significantly more precise than today’s atomic clocks. In their search for dark matter, the DQ-mat researchers recently achieved the most precise search for the ultra-light dark matter particles to date. Although no corresponding evidence has been found yet, this made it possible to further narrow down the particles’ composition. DQ-mat experiments have even extended to the International Space Station. There they were involved last year in the first-time creation of a quantum gas mixture consisting of two types of atoms. This brings about completely new possibilities for bringing quantum technologies previously available only on earth into space, as well as, for example, for testing Einstein’s equivalence principle. In total, the researchers have published their findings in more than 170 academic publications, have held over 100 presentations and have organised 25 workshops and conferences. 

Collaborative Research Centre 1227: Designed Quantum States of Matter (DQ-mat) – Generation, Manipulation, and Detection for Metrological Applications and Tests of Fundamental Physics is based at Leibniz University Hannover. The partners are the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Braunschweig, which is Germany’s national metrology institute, and the DLR Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensing in Hannover. The third and final funding period runs until the end of June 2028.

Note to editors:

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Piet Schmidt, Institute of Quantum Optics at Leibniz University Hannover and Institute for Experimental Quantum Metrology at the PTB (tel. +49 531 592 4700, email: piet.schmidt@quantummetrology.de).