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A new approach to quantum technology

Cold molecular ions may soon prove useful to quantum technology, thanks to research and training undertaken under the COMIQ project.
A new approach to quantum technology
Quantum technology may be at our doors, but there is still a very long way to go before we realise its full potential. In fact, not even the development platforms currently in use can be considered set in stone.

“Trapped and laser-cooled atomic ions is one of the most successful platforms for the development of quantum technology (QT),” says Prof. Michael Drewsen of Aarhus University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “In comparison, the complexity of molecular ions have so far made them an unnecessary complication. However, with the growing control of cold molecular ions, their richer structure and the greater diversity of molecules can actually be turned into an advantage for the further development of ion trap-based QT by picking out the species with the right properties.”

In other words, cold and trapped molecular ions could expand the realm of quantum technology, with potential applications in the likes of ultra-sensitive mass spectrometry, ultra-resolution spectroscopy, the cooling of macromolecular ions in the gas phase, or chemical processes at very low temperature.

As Prof. Drewsen points out, a large part of the COMIQ project, which he coordinated until November 2017, has been devoted to increasing the quantum state control and manipulation of individual molecular ion species – a key step towards the use of molecular ions in QT. In addition, the research has shed light on how trapped cold molecular ions interact with their environment, in turn leading to a better understanding of the practical problems to be tackled in the implementation of molecular ion based QT.

When asked about his most important achievement, Prof. Drewsen mentions, “the break-through we have had in buffer gas cooling of the internal states of Coulomb crystallised molecular ions. I consider this as a breakthrough mainly because its conceptual simplicity, and because it enables so many new types of experiments that one could not have dreamed of before. In fact, it may become key to the future development of cold molecular ion based QT.”

COMIQ, however, was not an opportunity for Prof. Drewsen and his team alone. Over its four years of research, the project brought together 10 research organisations as well as three industrial partners, and provided successful training to 15 PhD students who also got to conduct their own research. “They made extraordinary achievements in high-resolution spectroscopy and detailed investigations of cold collisional dynamics,” Prof. Drewsen explains.

All in all, COMIQ has established a strong community around cold molecular ion research; not only including project partners, but also beyond. Although the project is now completed, partners are currently using its outcomes to seek additional national and trans-national funding for further cold molecular ion science projects. Prof. Drewsen, for instance, is partnering with a new ITN application that builds heavily upon the results obtained within COMIQ to identify new scientific aspects.

“In my view, COMIQ has been a facilitator for the establishment and the future development of cold molecular ion science in a broad sense. The results obtained within COMIQ have clearly documented that cold molecular ion science is not only here to stay, but probably will be one of the important branches of AMO science in the future.”

Subjects

Life Sciences

Keywords

COMIQ, quantum technology, molecular ion
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