American military developers built a quantum radio-wave sensor capable of detecting radio-waves in a broad part of the radio-wave spectrum.
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Our world is literally filled with radio-waves at different frequencies that transfer various types of data. Experts from the American Army Research Laboratory (ARL) developed a new quantum sensor capable of detecting and analyzing radio-waves in the full radio-wave spectrum. These are frequencies from 0 to 20 GHz at which you can find AM and FM radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other communication signals. Such a device has immense potential for military technologies including electronic warfare.
The new device uses so-called Rydberg atoms. These are highly excited atoms where one or more electrons have a high principal quantum number and thus high potential electron energy that is then less bound to the nucleus. The resulting atoms are thus much larger than usual. In this case, we are talking about rubidium atoms that when changed into Rydberg atoms strongly interact with the electric fields in circuitry.
As Kevin Cox from the research team says, so far experimental systems with sensors based on Rydberg atoms were capable of only detecting limited and specific parts of the radio-wave spectrum. But the ARL’s sensor is the first that can do it across a large part of the radio-wave spectrum. According to Cox such sensors can provide soldiers that are more and more often fighting on electromagnetic battlefields.
The team’s leader David Meyer thinks of quantum sensors as one of the priorities that can bring technological surprises and thus advantages on future battlefields even when it comes to a relatively technologically advanced foe. These sensors come with unprecedented precision and sensitivity when detecting a broad range of radio-wave signals that can be critical for missions.
The researchers plan to further advance their quantum sensors especially when it comes to their sensitivity to radio-wave signals. The scientists acknowledge that there will have to be a lot of physics and engineering done before the quantum sensors get used in the real world. The first step will be miniaturizing the device as the scientists need not only good but also practical devices that make their lives simpler.
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