For quantum technologies to fulfill their promise, the systems that support them need to shrink. Laurence Coles from Added Scientific, an AM consultancy service which spun off from the University of Nottingham, wrote an article for Physics World (full article here) on how advances in additive manufacturing are bringing miniaturization within reach and heralding a wider revolution in vacuum system design, which could represent a breakthrough for quantum computers.
Coles explains that present and near-future quantum technologies – such as atomic clocks or quantum positioning systems – require efficient systems for cooling and trapping atoms. However forming and sustaining clouds of cold atoms is anything but simple and – among other things – requires an ultrahigh-vacuum (UHV) environment. These are critical sub-systems for high-precision quantum applications.
This is where Added Scientific’s knowledge of additive manufacturing – and in particular metal powder bed fusion processes – comes in. AM has the potential to make UHV systems much more effective than the current bulky, standardized stainless-steel components, mad of multiple assembled parts. This is possible by creating lattice structures and subassemblies as single parts.
This is the first time an AM chamber has been demonstrated to hold UHV, and for quantum technology applications, the advantages are clear. The mass of the Added Scientific prototype MOT chamber is 245 g – 70% less than that of a commercially available stainless-steel equivalent.
Quantum physics is one of the few fields where customers are really pushing for smaller UHV systems. This makes projects like the additively manufactured MOT chamber a perfect testbed for AM within the vacuum industry.
The introduction of AM techniques to vacuum system development clearly has the potential to impact portable quantum technology applications, but also the wider scientific and industrial community. At the same time, the use of AM for highly complex vacuum systems used for quantum applications clearly show the benefits of using AM in any complex system.