Meet a researcher working to bring quantum power to next-gen sensors


22 Jul 2020257 Views

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Prof Alice Sinatra of the Sorbonne University is working with an EU project looking to develop advanced quantum-enabled sensors.

After receiving her PhD in physics from the University of Milan in 1997, Prof Alice Sinatra undertook a fellowship position at École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Between 2000 and 2016, she was an associate professor at the Pierre and Marie Curie University and she is now a full professor at the Sorbonne University.

She also collaborates with the MacQsimal project to design, develop, miniaturise and integrate advanced quantum-enabled sensors.

These could be used to measure physical observables in five key areas: magnetic fields, time, rotation, electromagnetic radiation and gas concentration. This project is part of the wider €1bn EU initiative, Quantum Flagship, to kick-start a competitive European industry in quantum technologies.

Aice Sinatra smiling and resting her hand against her face while wearing a black jumper.

Image: Alice Sinatra

What inspired you to become a researcher?

A talk from a physics professor called Ugo Facchini at my high school where he talked to us about thermodynamics.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

With a student, Alan Sérafin, I am exploring the possibility of controlling and manipulating quantum correlations in a vapour of helium-3 where each atom carries a nuclear spin.

Our research is theoretical and we work in close collaboration with the group of Jakob Reichel in Paris and with the group of Philipp Treutlein in Basel that are planning a first experimental demonstration of our theoretical findings.

Besides the academic partners, we are in contact with major technological actors at the European level within the consortium MacQsimal.

In your opinion, why is your research important?
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We hope to contribute to a better understanding of all subtleties of the quantum theory, and we hope in the longer term that a ‘quantum improvement’ will be actually implemented in atomic sensors at the technological level.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

Precise magnetometers – instruments that sense a magnetic field – and atomic gyroscopes based on the technique of ‘nuclear magnetic resonance’.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

I work in the field of degenerate gases and in the field of quantum technologies. We have at our disposal a well-established theory that is quantum mechanics, that we want to apply to understand complex interacting systems.

The challenge is then to find the best angle from which to approach the problem, such that the technical difficulties can be handled.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

The tendency to oversell the work and the excessive importance given to the journals where the works are published. The important thing is the work, not the journal.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

Restricting to my area of expertise, a very promising domain lies at the interface between many body physics in quantum gases and quantum technologies. I have the ambition to contribute to these new developments.

Who is your unsung hero of science and why?

Isaak Markovich Khalatnikov, a Russian physicist of the Landau school, because of his works on superfluidity and quantum hydrodynamics that he invented with Lev Landau. The Russian school of theoretical physics had a huge advance over the western scientists in the 1950s, and I think it is still very strong today.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.