Inside a new quantum optics laboratory in development at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to come online later this year, light will be squeezed and students can help.
The laboratory will be a research facility for quantum optics expert Dr. Tian Li, who joined UTC as an assistant professor of physics in 2022. On Friday, April 21, Li talked about his past and future work in quantum sensing in the third of three expert presentations related to the emerging field of quantum science. This week’s three talks were part of the “Gig City Goes Quantum” initiative in which UTC is a substantial collaborator.
The initiative is led by EPB and Qubitekk, which are partnering to offer the EPB Quantum NetworkSM powered by Qubitekk. It will be the nation’s first industry-led, commercially available quantum network—expected to be operational by summer—and UTC will be home to a node of the network.
Li said he has extensive plans for using that resource in experiments on quantum network sensing in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, EPB and Qubitekk.
Quantum sensing, he explained, “is basically measurement using photons.” A photon is a particle of light—also known as a quantum. “We use photons to do the sensing, and quantum sensing is the field of study that uses quantum states of light to develop highly sensitive detectors to measure physical properties such as absorption, temperature, magnetic fields, chemical fields and so on.”
The approach, Li said, can produce significantly advanced information compared to classical—or historically available—means of such sensing because of the potential to reduce “noise.” Think medical imaging in which only fuzzy outlines are visible—compared to imaging that clearly depicts unmistakable objects. The latter is an example of image noise reduction.
Li shared examples of possible biomedical imaging advances on slides, including comparisons of the visibility of breast cancer cells in a classical imaging setting versus a dramatically more pronounced depiction of breast cancer cells in a quantum setting.
Image noise reduction in quantum sensing is enhanced by “squeezed light,” Li said. Then he walked his guests through the science involved in achieving this phenomenon, which has been and will continue to be a central element of his research.
The lab being created for this research will offer opportunities for UTC undergraduates from the outset.
“We will generate the light, then split the light there, and that setup can be maintained by one or two trained lab workers. They can be involved in the squeezed light generation,” Li said. “Undergraduates, after proper training, can take responsibility for the setup.”
He added that “many side projects” will be made available to undergrads interested in getting in on the new opportunities.
“There are many that they can be assigned to,” Li said. “You set up the cell. You maintain the temperature of the cell. You have to build the housing of the cell. All of that can be done by undergraduates, and it doesn’t involve any quantum mechanical training. What they need to do is look at how they are going to maintain the right temperature of the cell.”
The UTC node of the EPB quantum network will comprise another lab, Li said, creating plentiful opportunities for undergraduates.
As the Quantum Initiative at UTC gets underway, plans call for developing a certificate program in quantum science, followed by an undergraduate minor and eventually a major.