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Cool idea: Trinity physicists reveal plan for quantum thermometer


Research: The Trinity College QuSys group with Professor John Goold (pictured left on back row)

Research: The Trinity College QuSys group with Professor John Goold (pictured left on back row)

Research: The Trinity College QuSys group with Professor John Goold (pictured left on back row)

Physicists from Trinity College have put forward a ground-breaking proposal for a thermometer that can measure temperatures a billion times colder than those in outer space.

It has traditionally proven extremely difficult to measure such ultra-low temperatures, which are now created in laboratories worldwide.

Lead researcher Professor John Goold said: "Ultra-cold gases are now routinely created in labs worldwide and they have many uses, ranging from testing fundamental physics theories to detecting gravitational waves.

"But their temperatures are mind-bogglingly low, at nanokelvin and below. Just to give you an idea, one kelvin is -271.15 degrees Celsius. These gases are a billion times colder than that - the coldest places in the universe, and they are created right here on Earth."

The quantum thermometer which the researchers have proposed is a single atom that can be controlled with lasers allowing measurements to be read out from the gas.

"This is a proposal which is grounded in experiment," Mr Goold told the Irish Independent.

"Ultimately, as scientists we are fascinated by the really big questions about extreme things in nature, whether that's the biggest thing in the universe, the smallest thing in the universe or, in this case, the coldest thing in the universe.

"My group do basic science, but of course temperature is a concept that is so fundamental that being able to measure it precisely under extreme conditions is so important for emerging technologies.

"This new paradigm is known as quantum technologies and is currently receiving widespread interest, not only from funding agencies worldwide but also in the private sector in companies such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft, to name but a few.

"These are effectively devices or technologies which exploit the laws of a theory called quantum mechanics and they offer an unprecedented speed-up in certain tasks such as computation.

"Quantum mechanics allows for operations just like on your computer to work in parallel in a way that is not possible in conventional devices.

"Using this quantum thermometer allows for enhanced precision in the measurement of temperature. Measurements are at the core of basic science and improvements in accuracy are a driving force for emerging technologies," he added.

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The work was led by the QuSys team at Trinity with postdoctoral fellows Dr Mark Mitchison, Dr Giacomo Guarnieri and Professor Goold, in collaboration with Professor Steve Campbell (UCD) and Dr Thomas Fogarty and Professor Thomas Busch working at OIST in Japan.

Their results have just been published in the prestigious Physical Review Letters journal. Professor Goold and his QuSys research group is supported by Science Foundation Ireland.

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