Atom interferometry is a leading precision measurement technology that harnesses the wave-like interference of atoms, a distinctly quantum-mechanical effect, to make very precise measurements of accelerations and rotations, for example. The next generation of atom interferometers promise improved precision and greater stability in more compact, lower-weight configurations. Atom interferometry is thus transitioning from a laboratory-based technology to mobile devices capable of deployment in a range of environments, including space.
Space-based atom interferometers can potentially make more sensitive measurements than terrestrial devices by virtue of their longer operation times. This could enable superior satellite gravimetry for global water monitoring and tests of the weak equivalence principle capable of proving/disproving candidate theories of quantum gravity. However, achieving this large sensitivity improvement requires that other factors influencing atom interferometer performance, such as coherence between the atomic wavepackets, are maintained under the very different operating conditions of space. A space-based atom interferometer needs to be redesigned from the ground-up, optimised for the explicit purpose of operating in microgravity whilst taking into account other constraints, most notably those on size, weight, and power.
Depending on the student's level and time constraints, this project will focus on one or more of the following:
- Optimising the optical pulses used for coherent atom-wave beamsplitting and reflection, taking into account the quality of the atomic source (e.g. cold thermal atoms vs coherent Bose-condensed sources).
- Improving quality (e.g. size, mode shape, coherence) of atomic source.
- Devising methods of generating and preserving atom entanglement compatible with precision space-based sensing.