Researchers have used a new approach (optical metasurface) that will enable quantum sensors to shrink to a fraction of their current size. The quantum technology currently used in sensing devices works by finely controlling laser beams to engineer and manipulate atoms at super-cold temperatures. To manage this, the atoms have to be contained within a vacuum-sealed chamber where they can be cooled to the desired temperatures.
A key challenge in miniaturizing the instruments is in reducing the space required by the laser beams, which typically need to be arranged in three pairs, set at angles. The lasers cool the atoms by firing photons against the moving atom, lowering its momentum and cooling it down.
The new findings show how a new technique can be used to reduce the space needed for the laser delivery system. The method uses optical metasurface devices that can be used to control light. A metasurface optical chip can be designed to diffract a single beam into five separate, uniform beams that are used to supercool the atoms. This single chip can replace the complex optical devices that currently make up the cooling system.