Excellent bridge builders between basic research and research focused on application: Joint labs of FBH and HU are turning Adlershof into a hub for quantum research

13. January 2022

Excellent bridge builders between basic research and research focused on application

Joint labs of FBH and HU are turning Adlershof into a hub for quantum research

Katja Höflich und Andreas Wicht, FBH © WISTA Management GmbH

Two out of four: Katja Höflich and Andreas Wicht head joint labs for quantum research © WISTA Management GmbH

Small particles, large effects. This is the name of the game for researchers at Ferdinand-Braun-Institut. Together with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), four joint labs are now building bridges between basic research and research focused on application. The results are so unique, they are making Adlershof a global centre for quantum research and a driver for innovation in everyday applications.

Lasers, mobile phones, satellites, navigation, medical diagnostics—these are all unthinkable without quantum physics. What might sound very theoretical and lofty to the uninitiated has emormous real-world benefits. Reaping these benefits is what researchers at the Ferdinand Braun Institute, also known as Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik (FBH), are doing across four labs on “integrated quantum technology”. “Our goal is to transfer ideas from the lab into solutions for the industry,” explains the project coordinator and lab head, Andreas Wicht. Founded in 2019, the labs focus on applications such as quantum sensors, quantum communication, and quantum computing.

“By covering all the major fields of quantum technology, we are able to build bridges from basic research to application,” says Katja Höflich, who leads the joint lab “Photonic Quantum Technologies” at FBH together with Arno Rauschenbeutel. There is an added benefit from the work at the four labs: “Our expertise is growing,” says the physicist. This would not be possible without the cooperation with other scientists, especially those from Humboldt-Universität.

Fertile ground for great ideas. Ideas that cover the entire value creation chain—from developing and demonstrating concepts to developing technologies and, finally, products. “Researchers at universities don’t always look at application,” say Wicht. “As a technology-focused research facility, FBH is therefore ideal to transfer ideas from quantum-based semiconductors, say, into functioning components and systems.”Some of them even find their way into space, piggybacking on research rockets. Diode laser modules from Adlershof have, among other things, created the very first Bose-Einstein condensate in space.

The joint lab “Quantum Photonic Components”, which is headed by Wicht, is developing narrow and ultra-narrow line-width diode lasers, spectroscopy and distribution modules, which seek to take the research and development in this field to the next level. This has been dubbed “Q!uantum technology 2.0”. “To this end, we are researching novel concepts and components for diode lasers, especially for use in space,” explains Wicht. This includes satellite communication with lasers, for example. It shows how flexibly these technologies can now be used. Laser technology, originally developed for operating nuclear optical clocks, is used here beyond quantum technology.

Wicht and his team also work in more earthly spheres: They are sussing out new ways for the micro-assembly of laser modules for applications in digitised manufacturing, or Industry 4.0. Moreover, the physicist is working with cooperation partners like DLR, the German Aerospace Centre, to use telerobotic manufacturing (including gesture-controlled augmented and virtual reality) to find a cost-effective way to produce small quantities of quantum technology modules. These are typically used in navigation.

Katja Höflich and her team at the joint lab “Photonic Quantum Technologies” is developing novel chip-based quantum devices that can be directly interfaced with optical fibres. She works with nanofabricated optical waveguide chips that permit high-level control of light confinement and propagation. “By exposing these components to focused ions, they are made more powerful and can be equipped with additional quantum functionalities,” she explains.

Excellent research, indeed. Höflich is much more modest in her assessment: “Depending on their environment, everybody will have different definition of what excellence is,” she says. “At university, people strive to be published in high-level journals. We at FBH seek to create components and modules that no one has done before.” For most people, this would probably pass as a generally valid definition of the word “excellent”.

Chris Löwer for Adlershof Journal

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