Have you ever wondered exactly what’s underground miles below you? 

The persistent search for what exactly lies beneath our feet just had a breakthrough thanks to the creation of a quantum sensor.

Wait…a what? We’ll explain. 

Introducing the quantum sensor 

A new quantum sensor developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. in partnership with the Ministry of Defense is making it cheaper and much easier to see underground

Researchers are describing the invention as an “Edison moment” which they hope will go on to have far-reaching implications.

So, what are gravity sensors, and why are they important? 

What are gravity sensors?

Earth at the edge of a desk


Gravity sensors are the main tools in a field of study known as gravity gradiometry –the study and measurement of variations in the Earth’s gravitational field. Gravity sensors measure tiny differences in the Earth’s density to show information on geologic structures underground and undersea. 

This new quantum sensor, known as a quantum gravity gradiometer, will not only help archaeologists and engineers peer below Earth’s surface, it may also help them predict natural disasters like volcanoes. 

A better way to peer underground

Underground tunnel


Scientists are always looking for better ways to observe the world around us, so it’s no surprise that they would want to make their work more accurate and less cumbersome.

Thanks to the research team at the University of Birmingham, this quantum sensor has been successfully demonstrated in a practical outdoor setting. 

Researchers involved with the project were able to achieve this feat by manipulating the quantum properties of atoms (the building blocks of everything in existence). 

The high-tech nature of the process underlines the impressiveness of the feat, which experts believe could lead to significant changes across the entire field.

Not only might this new tech enable us to visualize complex structures that lie underneath the ground, but it also does so more efficiently than before.

Older quantum sensor technology was plagued by a lot of issues that limited its implementation out in the field. The old tech needed a really long time to detect changes in gravity. It also had to be recalibrated over time to maintain accuracy and usefulness. 

The quantum sensor, on the other hand, is able to pick up minute changes in gravity fields from objects of varying sizes that exist underground. Such structures include man-made structures that may have been buried over thousands of years, natural resources that may have eluded other detection methods, and so on.

What does the future hold for quantum sensors? 

In the field of geology, this quantum sensor can fuel new manufacturing and building practices. Improved geological surveys can bring forth innovations in reliant industries like electronic, electrical, and civil engineering.

Several scientific fields rely heavily on current geological methods for insights into what lies underneath the ground beneath our feet, at the bottom of the ocean, and in the atmosphere.

The quantum gravity gradiometer will impact each of these fields going forward by improving the quality of research. For example, you can expect surveying times to drop. The financial barrier to such research will also be lowered for more companies and individual researchers looking to get into the field.

Ultimately, thanks to innovations in the field of quantum gravity sensing, there may be:

  • Safer, faster building construction and urban planning
  • Safer and more efficient excavation of natural resources
  • Better air and sea navigation 
  • Development of advanced warning systems in case of natural disasters like volcanic eruptions and tsunamis

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