BIRMINGHAM, England — British scientists are celebrating an extraordinary breakthrough that could revolutionize everything from archeology to geology to national security. For the first time ever, a quantum gravity sensor has successfully identified objects hidden deep underground.
The milestone paves the way for drawing a map of the mysterious world beneath the surface of the Earth. Researchers from the University of Birmingham say the device, call a quantum gravity gradiometer, can locate artifacts, structures and other objects buried underground. It could even predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
In a groundbreaking experiment, the Quantum Gravity Gradiometer detected a tunnel buried outside about three feet between two multi-storey buildings in Birmingham. This has implications for industry, human knowledge and national security, the physicists say.
“This is an ‘Edison moment’ in sensing that will transform society, human understanding and economies,” lead researcher Kai Bongs, head of cold atom physics at the university, said in a statement. . “With this breakthrough, we have the potential to end reliance on bad records and luck as we explore, build and repair. Additionally, an underground map of what is currently unseen is now a significant step further. , ending a situation where we know more about Antarctica than what lies a few feet below our streets.
The Quantum Gravity Gradiometer was created for the UK Ministry of Defence. It’s the first time the technology has worked outside of a lab — a major win in an international race.
The tool works by detecting variations in microgravity at the atomic level. This opens the door to dramatic improvements in mapping what exists below ground. Benefits include reduced costs and delays in construction, rail and road projects. It can help predict natural events like volcanic eruptions or movement along fault lines.
It also offers the hope of uncovering hidden natural resources, built structures, and archaeological mysteries without damaging the excavations.
“It has potential for a range of applications,” says lead author Dr Michael Holynski, head of atom interferometry at Birmingham. “Civil engineers could use it to inspect brownfield sites for near-surface features that could affect new construction. Archaeologists may find it useful for mapping tombs and structures hidden underground. It could even be used in the measurement of geological features such as aquifers or soil density to determine water content.
Current gravity sensors face a range of environmental issues such as vibration that reduce measurement time for surveying applications. The tool will make them ten times faster, more comprehensive and cheaper, taking a few days rather than a month.
“Detecting ground conditions such as mine workings, tunnels and unstable ground is fundamental to our ability to design, build and maintain housing, industry and infrastructure,” adds co-author George Tuckwell, Director of geosciences and engineering at RSK, an environmental and engineering company. “The enhanced capability this new technology represents could transform the way we map the terrain and complete these projects.”
Quantum systems are very sensitive to their environment. The design of the team was demonstrated by conducting a survey. The instrument found the tunnel – measuring two by two meters – under a road surface in the bustling city centre.
“For national defense and security, accurate and rapid measurements of variations in microgravity open up new opportunities to detect the otherwise undetectable and navigate more safely through challenging environments,” says co-author Dr. Gareth Brown, Project Joint Technical Authority for Quantum Sensing and Senior Principal Scientist for the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory. “As gravity-sensing technology matures, applications for underwater navigation and subsurface revelation will become possible.”
Groundbreaking findings are published in the journal Nature.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.