Featured innovator: Kaitlin Moore
Moore is an atomic physicist engaged in exciting work in the field of quantum science and engineering as a researcher in SRI International’s Applied Sciences division
For Kaitlin Moore, there was inspiration in atoms.
Moore was only 20 or so, studying at the University of Michigan, when she started a position as a laboratory research assistant. The team she joined was conducting experiments centered on a tabletop atomic clock. Moore found herself fascinated by the phenomenon she studied — the way atoms and light interact and so much more.
“Atomic systems are so predictable and reproducible at a fundamental level, but also so rich in possibilities,” says Moore, excitement rising in her voice. “You can take any atom of the same species and perform the same actions on it with a laser and it will have the same response as any other atom of the same type. There’s no messiness. It’s an atom. It’s perfect. It’s produced by nature.”
In the world of atoms, Moore found her passion. Now an atomic physicist, Moore has brought that passion — and a wealth of acumen and scientific insight — to SRI. Based out of SRI’s Princeton, NJ facility, Moore is a research scientist in the Applied Sciences division. There, she and the team she’s part of are spearheading advancements in the burgeoning, potentially world-changing realm of quantum sensing and quantum communications.
Following the atoms to SRI
Raised in Michigan, Moore is a Wolverine through-and-through, earning a bachelors’ degree in physics and German at the University of Michigan and ultimately achieving a PhD as a Rackham Fellow in applied physics from the college’s Rackham Graduate School.
In 2017, she took her ample skills to the Boulder, CO-based National Institute of Standards & Technology. As an NRC Post-Doctoral Fellow, she worked on cold-atom physics and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology development in the Time and Frequency Division. “That’s where I really got my introduction into atomic sensing — chip scale atomic systems,” says Moore.
That experience would soon come to serve her well at SRI.
When an opportunity arose, Moore interviewed with SRI. She was offered a research position. She knew she had to take the job. “I thought to myself, ‘I really want to come here and start working,’” Moore shares. “SRI has this amazing team — this amazing technology that’s really at the forefront of quantum sciences. I couldn’t wait to get here and get started.
Applying the laws of quantum mechanics to real-world applications
Part of a team led by SRI Applied Physics Laboratory Director Jesse Wodin and Associate Director Alan Braun, Moore’s research portfolio is centered on advancing quantum science into the realm of quantum engineering — a kind of evolution of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory in physics that describes the physical properties of nature on an atomic scale. It departs from the traditional restrictions of classical physics and attempts to explain the world of the infinitely small.
Now, at the cutting edge of today’s research, SRI scientists like Moore are taking the laws of quantum mechanics and applying them to technology development in fields that range from inertial navigation (GPS-denied navigation) to communications to security. In that, they’re working within the new sphere of quantum engineering — a paradigm in next-generation technology that’s focused on the performance and precision of quantum devices and sensors that can outperform what classical equivalents can do.
Creating next-generation quantum sensors
Part of Moore’s work relates to quantum sensors, which use atoms as sensors. Acceleration, light and radiofrequency fields act upon atoms in quantum sensors. Scientists like Moore can measure the effects of such phenomena on atoms, pinpointing precise measurements of the phenomena themselves.
But what does that mean for the average person on the street? Potentially quite a lot, as a component of Moore’s work with quantum engineering can help lead to the building of high-sensitivity, self-calibrating, scaled-down chip-sized sensors that have real-world practical use.
For instance, these quantum sensors can power the creation of cameras that can capture clearer images at further distances, radios that can detect smaller signals, and clocks that can tell time more accurately. They can make possible unbelievably precise navigation systems, and enhance the function of networks of sensors that, for example, fuel the functioning of autonomous cars.
Moore articulates another exciting potential application. “Take airport security screenings,” she begins. “If you have a sensitive enough detector, then you don’t need people to walk through a machine and be actively scanned with terahertz radiation. You can view any potentially dangerous objects on a person in a passive manner. As such, you can get higher throughput in a less intrusive way.”
The new age of quantum communications
Additionally, Moore and SRI’s applied physics crew are keenly focused on pioneering advancements in quantum communications.
Quantum communications is a nascent area of research that involves delving into and developing hardware components for futuristic quantum networks that can swiftly and securely transfer quantum information over vast distances. “We’re working on repeaters that will help make these networks possible,” Moore explains, noting that there are exciting end-use applications for such technology in cryptography and distributed sensing.
“There are many exciting projects here at SRI,” says Moore. “We’re making our mark in new atomic sensing niches and quantum communications niches. Our portfolio is expanding. It’s incredibly cool to be a part of it all.”