Quantum-scale sensors to yield human-scale benefits with new backing from NSF

Three images depicting different types and capacities of quantum sensors.

Three images depicting quantum sensors.

August 22, 2023

18 research teams win funding from NSF to pursue new sensor technologies that can control quantum phenomena to precisely measure the previously unmeasurable.

A new breed of sensors may one day allow doctors to pinpoint infections inside individual cells, or geologists to find subterranean mineral deposits without lifting a shovel. Bringing such innovations to fruition is the goal of 18 research teams backed by a $29 million investment from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The aim is to harness the infinitesimal — and sometimes counterintuitive — quantum-scale properties of nature to create new opportunities at the human scale.

The 18 teams are comprised of researchers at universities across the U.S. who competed for and won funding from NSF's Quantum Sensing Challenges for Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems program. Each team will receive $1 million-$2 million over four years to conduct research that uses quantum phenomena, such as entanglement (when some properties of two or more separate particles are invisibly linked), to create sensors which can do things that would otherwise be impossible. Collectively, the teams will conduct a broad range of exploratory research activities, from measuring the height and density of mountains with an ultraprecise atomic clock to revealing the inner functions of living cells with quantum-entangled particles of light.

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The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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