Quantum physicist earns innovation nomination

14 November 2011

School of Physics Quantum Physicist, Dr Michael J Beircuk, has been announced as one of four finalists in the Australian Innovation Challenge Awards, Minerals and Energy category run in association with Shell and supported by the Federal Government's Department of Innovation, Industry and Science and Research (DIISR).

Dr Biercuk has invented the world's most sensitive detector of forces and fields, based on atomic ions trapped using electromagnetic fields. The device has been demonstrated to have sensitivity at the scale of the yoctonewton (per square root hertz) - a measurement that is a thousand times more sensitive than anything previously possible.

It is technology that could lead to faster and more accurate remote sensing in minerals exploration allowing mining companies to hone in on smaller geological deposits.

The discovery also provides an opportunity to address new challenges arising in materials science and nanotechnology.

"The ability to measure tiny forces at a dramatically enhanced measurement speed is a key demonstration that may spark new interest in ion-based sensors for applications such as the characterisation of nanomaterials and standoff detection for the mining industry."

To detect the force, Dr Biercuk and colleagues used a device consisting of about 60 beryllium ions confined in a Penning Trap, which stores charged particles using electric and magnetic fields.

Any movement caused by an applied force was measured with a laser. The resulting measurement of forces with sensitivity at the level of 390 yoctonewtons with just one second of measurement eclipsed the previous record by three orders of magnitude.

This research is part of a long-term research initiative in quantum-enabled technology, funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems.

The work previously earned Dr. Biercuk the 2011 NMI Prize for excellence in measurement research by a scientist under 35. This new recognition stems from the realization that this kind of device has great potential for applications in the mining industry.

"It shows how strategic, long-term research can have unexpected near-term applications," says Dr Biercuk.

Dr Biercuk added that he was excited about the new capabilities in measurement science emerging from collaborations abroad and with colleagues in the School of Physics and the ARC Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems.

Contact: Alison Muir

Phone: 02 9036 5194

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