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Five minutes with Tim Ballance, Lead Scientist at ColdQuanta UK

October 28th 2020
Tim Ballance

ColdQuanta UK, the Oxford-based quantum atomics company, has been awarded £2.8 million in Innovate UK grants to lead a consortium of companies across the UK to develop three projects, including work on a new, ground-breaking quantum positioning system (QPS) or gyroscope.

Based on thirteen years’ research and development, ColdQuanta’s USP is its Quantum Core™ Technology which uses lasers to cool atoms down to close to absolute zero.

At one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero, or -273.15 C, the Quantum Core creates a rare state of matter or Bose-Einstein condensates.

Sometimes called the fifth state of matter, these gaseous atom clouds stop behaving like individual atoms and start to behave like a collective or wave. Control of these ultra-cold atoms, individually or as a cloud, can enable everything from atomic timekeeping to quantum logic. The resulting systems can be deployed on Earth or in space.

ColdQuanta’s Quantum Core Technology is currently part of NASA/JPL’s Cold Atom Laboratory (or CAL) to test the behaviour of quantum matter in space.

ColdQuanta UK, from its base at The Oxford Trust’s Oxford Centre for Innovation next to Oxford Castle, is currently working on the development of a quantum positioning system (QPS), particularly a gyroscope that will allow precise navigation by very accurately measuring rotation.

The ColdQuanta QPS will help overcome vulnerabilities associated with current GPS (or GNSS) systems. It has the commercial potential for automated shipping as well as use in defence systems, aircraft and trains, and one day could be miniaturised for use in cars and even mobile phones.

The projects being developed by ColdQuanta are partially funded by the UK government, whose investment through the National Quantum Technologies Programme has totalled more than £1 billion since its inception in 2014. The funding is being used to accelerate the translation of quantum technologies into the marketplace and secure the UK’s status as a world-leader in quantum science and technologies.

Dr Tim Ballance, lead scientist at ColdQuanta UK, said: “The Innovate UK funding allows us to provide cold atom quantum technology for three separate projects in the UK: to lead the development of a quantum gyroscope that will be demonstrated in flight; to develop technology that will enable continuous operation of quantum sensors; and to work with partners on an updated system to improve the integration of lasers into quantum atomic systems.

“This funding demonstrates how ColdQuanta’s cold atom technology can be the basis of a broad range of new quantum applications. Our team is excited to have been chosen for these projects, all of which will advance the commercialisation of our cold atom quantum technologies."

Steve Burgess, chief executive officer, The Oxford Trust added: “It is exciting to see ColdQuanta developing breakthrough projects such as the quantum gyroscope in our Oxford Centre for Innovation, right in the heart of Oxford. The fact that atoms are being cooled to -273.15 C and studied in our innovation centre is thrilling. We have a thriving community of leading-edge science and tech start-ups working in both our innovation centres – The Wood Centre and Oxford Centre for Innovation. It is forward thinking businesses such as ColdQuanta that help to keep Oxford’s due place on the global innovation map. With this new tranche of funding from Innovate UK, we are looking forward to seeing the company grow and thrive.”

ColdQuanta was spun out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, by Professor Dana Anderson, and Rainer Kunz. Dana worked with Noble Prize-winning physicists Cornell, Weiman as well as ColdQuanta co-founder Theodor Hänsch on cold atom technology but saw it had wide potential and started ColdQuanta in 2007. The Oxford arm was started in 2015 and Dr Tim Ballance was recruited as lead scientist. To complete the three-year Innovate UK project, they are currently a team of five and plan to expand to 12 people within the next 12 months.

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