Quantum Radio May Offer Twist on Communicating in Problematic Environments:
The ARRL Letter
January 11, 2018
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'Quantum Radio' May Offer New Twist on Communicating in Problematic Environments:
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST
https://www.nist.gov/) have demonstrated that quantum physics might
enable communication and mapping in locations where GPS, cell phones,
and radio are not reliable or don't work at all, such as indoors, in
urban canyons, underwater, and underground. NIST announced
the technology advance on January 2. The technology may have marine,
military, and surveying applications. The NIST team is experimenting
with very-low-frequency (VLF) digitally modulated magnetic signals,
which propagate farther through buildings, water, and soil than
conventional electromagnetic signals at higher frequencies.
"The big issues with very-low-frequency communications, including
magnetic radio, are poor receiver sensitivity and extremely limited
bandwidth of existing transmitters and receivers. This means the data
rate is zilch," said NIST project leader Dave Howe, AD0MR.
"The best magnetic field sensitivity is obtained using quantum sensors.
The increased sensitivity leads in principle to better range. The
quantum approach also offers the possibility to get high-bandwidth
communications like a cellphone has. We need bandwidth to communicate
with audio underwater and in other forbidding environments," he said.
NIST researchers have demonstrated detection of digitally modulated
magnetic signals by a magnetic-field sensor that relies on the quantum
properties of rubidium atoms. The NIST technique varies magnetic fields
to modulate or control the frequency -- specifically, the horizontal
and vertical positions of the signal's waveform -- produced by the
Physicist Dave Howe, AD0MR, aligns a laser beam to pass through a tiny
glass cell of rubidium atoms inside the cylindrical magnetic shield.
The atoms are the heart of an atomic magnetometer demonstrated as a
receiver for digitally modulated magnetic VLF signals.
NIST developed a direct current magnetometer that uses polarized
light as a detector to measure the "spin" of rubidium atoms in a tiny
glass cell induced by magnetic fields. Changes in the atoms' spin rate
correspond to an oscillation in the dc magnetic fields, creating
alternating current voltages at the light detector that are more useful
"Atoms offer very fast response plus very high sensitivity," Howe said.
"Classical communications involves a tradeoff between bandwidth and
sensitivity. We can now get both with quantum sensors," Howe speculated
on an Amateur Radio application.
"The quantum radio is great fun, far better sensitivity than any other
receiver, at room temperature, anyway," Howe told ARRL. "The atoms in
the gas cell replace the 'antenna' and detection in the classical
sense. It would be nice to try modulation in the 2200-meter band using
the quantum receiver for detection." In the future, the NIST team plans
to develop improved transmitters.
In the NIST tests, the sensor detected digitally modulated magnetic
field signals with strengths of 1 picotesla -- one millionth of Earth's
magnetic field strength -- and at frequencies below 1 kHz.
The researchers hope to extend the range of low-frequency magnetic
field signals by boosting the sensor sensitivity, suppressing noise
more effectively, and increasing and efficiently using the sensor's
The NIST strategy requires inventing an entirely new field, which
combines quantum physics and low-frequency magnetic radio, said Howe,
who told ARRL that ham radio enhanced his interest in communications
when he was in ninth grade in New Mexico. "So, it's what guided my
interest into applied quantum physics in college. Ham radio was the
bigger influence in all ways." Howe retired from NIST last September.
He now is a research advisor for NIST and Colorado University.
The ARRL Letter
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Quantum Radio May Offer Twist on Communicating in Problemati
by WA7SGS on January 12, 2018
Mail this to a friend!
"Can you hear me now?" will soon be answered in the affirmative. Star Trek had subspace radio, which was fictional. Now we will have quantum radio for real!
One has to wonder if SETI is high tech enough to truly find evidence of alien civilizations. Maybe we can open the radio door in a new way and find something Out There.