Quantum Valley Ideas Lab gets DARPA funding to develop quantum sensing technologies

Lindsay Borthwick
September 22, 2021

DARPA is on everyone’s lips as more than one federal party made a Canadian version of the U.S. defence-related R&D agency a key innovation promise. Nowhere is DARPA more relevant today than at Quantum Valley Ideas Lab (QVIL), a not-for-profit applied research institute in Waterloo, Ont., which is participating in two new DARPA programs that aim to move quantum technologies out of the laboratory and into the real world.

QVIL was one of eight industry and university research teams selected this month to participate in the Science of Atomic Vapors for New Technologies (SAVaNT) program, a four-year effort to develop room-temperature atomic vapours for new sensing applications. The organization is also partnering with SRI International, an independent R&D centre based in Silicon Valley, and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on the Quantum Apertures program, which aims to develop radio frequency antennas and receivers using quantum science.

Both programs are focused on quantum sensors, which take advantage of the extreme sensitivity of quantum states. Quantum sensors could be one of the first quantum technologies to find commercial success, but there are still practical challenges to overcome.

For example, the world’s most accurate atomic clocks use quantum sensors but the atoms must be cooled to very low temperatures with lasers. This makes them impractical for field use. Warm atomic vapours would be a game-changer, but to advance their use, researchers need to find a way to overcome the effects of temperature changes on quantum effects. That is the focus of the SAVaNT program. 

The Quantum Apertures program "aims to develop a fundamentally new way of receiving radio frequency waveforms, which is critical to future Department of Defense initiatives for electronic warfare, radar, and communications," said DARPA Program Manager John Burke in a statement. 

At QVIL, one of its core research projects is led by physicist and senior fellow Jim Shaffer, who is a world expert in Rydberg sensors, which use atoms in a highly excited state to sense electric fields. He has been working for more than a decade on developing new quantum measurement technologies that use these atoms. Shaffer is QVIL’s lead for both projects, which will complement and leverage the work he has underway.

QVIL was founded in 2016 by Blackberry co-founders Doug Fregin and Mike Lazaridis, who both serve on its board. Nick Werstiuk, the chief executive officer, came to QVIL in 2020 from IBM, where he was Director of AI Offerings at IBM Cognitive Systems.

QVIL's mission is to “bridge the gap between academic labs and industry to accelerate the research and development of the most promising quantum technologies.” It is funded by philanthropic donations and the federal government.

DARPA did not disclose the value of the SAvANT awards. However, a contract with one of the other research teams in the program, ColdQuanta, Inc., is worth $3.6 million, according to the company.


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.