Building lasers for quantum optics

By the Faculty of Science

A University partnership with industry has revolutionised the way lasers are built and operate. Expanding from this partnership could result in technology that meets a worldwide demand from the quantum science community.

The technology

Lasers are ubiquitous, from CD and DVD players to the red or green dots flashed around lecture theatres worldwide. But quantum optics requires high quality lasers that have a consistent output at a precise wavelength of light, and these are complicated to build and expensive, as are the electronics that run them. In the early 2000s, Professor Robert Scholten, School of Physics in the Faculty of Science, became frustrated with the state of commercially available laser equipment, and started to make his own.

In 2004, Professor Scholten designed a box that contained all of the electronics needed to run a precision laser. He had twelve copies of his working design made, and after sharing these with colleagues soon realised that there was a significant market for a high quality, user-friendly, all-in-one laser electronics box.

The partnership

With assistance from RIC (then called Melbourne Ventures), Professor Scholten created the company Moglabs, and soon began selling these electronics to physics labs around the world. Recently Moglabs started building and selling precision lasers as well, and now has turnover of $2 million per year and growing.

Professor Scholten, co-founder of MOGLabs and academic researcher at the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne, has said: ‘Universities play important roles in teaching and research, and in engaging with the broader community to disseminate both established and new knowledge. Typically that dissemination has been through scientific literature and graduating students, but I have found direct engagement with industry through partnership with MOGLabs to be a greatly stimulating and rewarding enhancement of my academic life.’

The outcome

Many areas of quantum science, from quantum computing to ultracold atom sensing to nanoscale imaging inside living human cells, require precise, coherent lasers running at very specific wavelengths of light. Different wavelengths can be produced by different kinds of laser diodes, but not all wavelengths can be produced this way.

Professor Scholten and Moglabs are currently working to build lasers that produce light at new wavelengths, using multiple laser diodes and optical cavity and frequency stabilisation technology. If successful, this will meet a worldwide demand from the quantum science community.

Funding bodies have recognised the potential of this business. The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded two linkage projects to allow Professor Scholten to continue to develop his lasers, and this work was the primary commercial outcome of the Centre for Excellence for Coherent X-Ray Science.

Professor Scholten said: ‘Collaborating with MOGLabs has allowed us to transfer our innovations in instrumentation to a much larger community, helping many researchers around the world and dramatically increasing the awareness of my research and of the University of Melbourne. It enables employment of PhD scientists locally and abroad, and supports local manufacturing and industrial design. These valuable outcomes have been enabled by university teaching and research.’