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Quantum-based Measurements

trapped beryllium ions in a hexagonal single-plane crystal

Under certain conditions, trapped beryllium ions form a hexagonal single-plane crystal. This crystal consists of about 300 ions that are spaced about 10 micrometers apart and are fluorescing (scattering laser light). An array of ions such as this might be used as a memory device in a quantum computer.

Credit: NIST


Advances in science and technology drive innovation and are crucial to achieving long-term, sustainable economic growth. In turn, scientific and technological progress hinges on measurement capabilities—testing, analyzing, characterizing, and more. Accurate measurements are indispensable. Or as computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper put it, "One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions."

The physical and biological sciences are converging on the nanoscale and the decades-long trend toward ever-smaller electronic devices is approaching fundamental size limits. A new technology frontier is opening—the quantum world. The opportunities that await are underscored in the National Academies' report, Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules and Photons1 and in A Federal Vision for Quantum Information Science,2 prepared by the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee for Quantum Information Science. Realizing these opportunities will require a vastly more sophisticated measurement system, one that enables innovators to transcend the quantum and classical worlds.

Proposed NIST Program

The ultimate goal of work carried out under the proposed initiative is to create the basis for quantum-based units for measurements of time, charge, and light, which can then be tied to the macroscopic units on which the International System of units (the metric system) is currently based. NIST will:

  • Create tools for manipulating and controlling quantum systems;
  • Develop the measurement foundation for engineering complex quantum devices with improved quantum materials; and
  • Exploit precision quantum measurements to improve understanding of the underlying laws of nature.

Expected Impacts

The advanced quantum-based measurement capabilities that this initiative aims to develop will enable:

  • Improved quantum materials and fuller understanding of material characteristics essential for optimally performing quantum-based devices, integrated sets of these devices, and ultimately high-performance quantum information processing systems;
  • Precision measurement of the fundamental constants and fundamental processes, allowing for alternative approaches for testing the nature of space and time;
  • Development of quantum-based measurements and standards, providing a self-consistent, interconnected system of metrology that is immune to drift and providing a firmer basis for international comparability of measurements; and
  • Support a future workforce of highly trained experts in this evolving research area through collaborations and NIST's own fellowship and associate programs.

1Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules, and Photons; National Academies Press: Washington, D.C., 2007.

2A Federal Vision for Quantum Information Science; National Science and Technology Council: Washington, D.C., 2008.

Created August 18, 2009, Updated January 3, 2017