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Frontier research

Quantum and ultra-fast photonics

Our Quantum Technology funding portfolio is one of the largest in Scotland with a 100-strong research community and 400 outputs cited in the top 10% in the world.

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Many of today's technologies use quantum physics in a wide range of devices from computers to household appliances, from GPS to atomic clocks and lasers. Quantum mechanics has spurred the Information Age. The second 'quantum revolution' will take full advantage of quantum physics' most remarkable properties yet - quantum optics is central to this revolution.

1000 m2 of labs with advanced equipment ranging from laser-based holographic mask fabrication, flip-chip integration of quantum components, to cryogenically cooled, high efficiency superconducting detector arrays. World-class research results in real-world application.

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Research Bites

Measuring the smallest magnetic fields

What's the smallest magnetic field sensor you can make?


Dr Bonato: What's the smallest magnetic field sensor you can make? Ideally, you would use a single elementary particle, such as an electron.

Well, it turns out this isn't science fiction but something that we can actually do in the lab! In the Quantum Photonics Lab at Heriot-Watt University, we can detect the magnetic properties of single electrons and single atomic nuclei. This allows us to use them as tiny compasses to measure magnetic fields with very high spatial resolution, down to one millionth of a millimetre.

Why do we want to do this?

Such tiny magnetic sensors can be very helpful in nanotechnology: for example, you could use them to determine the structure of single biological molecules, or measure currents in small electronic devices meaning that we can visualise and examine the most specific of elements to an accuracy we never truly thought possible.

Manufacturing with lasers

Professor Duncan Hand explains how at Heriot-Watt we are developing new laser processes to solve a range of manufacturing problems.


Professor Duncan Hand: When you think of lasers, you probably think of pretty coloured beams of light at a laser light show, or a laser pointer used in a presentation.  

However the laser is increasingly used as a highly controllable tool in manufacturing – for instance about 30 different laser processes are used to manufacture a smart phone, from cutting the screen to drilling holes in the circuit boards – and without these processes such complex devices would be impossible to make.  

The reason why lasers are so useful is that they can deposit high energy exactly where you want and exactly when you want, for example in a pulse into an area of one thousandth of a mm across and lasting less than a billionth of a second.  This gives fantastic control for modifying or removing really any material.

At Heriot-Watt we're developing new laser processes to solve a range of manufacturing problems from tailoring the frictional properties of surfaces to be used in engines of large container ships to the manufacture of miniature robotic actuators for minimally invasive surgery so we can constantly find ways of using lasers to improve industries across the world.

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