Cluster for Future QSens
Quantum sensors for everyday life – universities and industry partners combine their expertise

Ulm University

Success in the Cluster for Future initiative for researchers at Ulm University, the University of Stuttgart and their partners from the industry! Joint project QSens has been selected as one of seven innovation networks nationwide in the highly competitive Clusters4Future competition sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In collaboration with specialized companies, researchers from Stuttgart and Ulm intend to develop the quantum sensors of the future up to market readiness. Applications range from personalised medicine to automated driving and information technology. Over the next ten years, the BMBF will provide funding of up to 450 million euros for Clusters for Future, while the industry will contribute a similar amount. The first three-year funding phase will provide each cluster with up to 15 million euros.

Highly sensitive and inexpensive sensors for medical imaging, ultra-precise navigation and climate research have previously been pipe dreams. But now the second generation of quantum technologies is on the verge of application. Researchers at Ulm University and the University of Stuttgart have been considered world leaders in the field of quantum sensor technology for many years. In the QSens project, which was selected by the BMBF as Cluster for Future, findings from fundamental research are now to be transferred to practical applications. On the path to high-tech sensors ready for mass production, the researchers are supported by partners from the industry, some of whom are world market leaders in sensor technology, including Bosch, Zeiss and Bruker. “The distinctive aspects of the quantum world offer unique opportunities to improve sensor performance. Revolutionary increases in sensitivity unlock new applications, from observing the earth from space to imaging human brain activity,” explains Professor Joachim Ankerhold, Head of the Institute for Complex Quantum Systems and Vice-President for Research at Ulm University.

The Cluster for Future QSens focuses on the areas of healthcare, mobility, information technology (the Internet of things) and sustainability. Quantum sensors are being developed for these applications, with precise measurements going to the limits of what nature allows. This level of precision is made possible by the laws of quantum mechanics – the sensors exploit the entanglement and decoherence of the smallest particles on different quantum platforms. The researchers are using defects in solids such as diamonds as the physical basis during the first funding phase. Other quantum platforms will be added later. In the first three years of the QSens project, existing technologies will be brought to mass production readiness. New breakthrough technologies will be developed in blue skies projects and subsequent funding phases.

Innovation ecosystem for the development of quantum sensors

Unlike most collaborative projects, QSens comprises an innovation ecosystem that covers the entire supply chain for the sensors being researched. Through the collaborative and interdisciplinary Center for Integrated Quantum Science and Technology (IQST), Ulm University and the University of Stuttgart have been working with the industrial QSens partners Bosch, Zeiss, Trumpf and Bruker for many years. The industrial consortium is further supported by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim and Rentschler. Additional collaborations include state research institute IMS CHIPS and the future quantum technology facility of the German Aerospace Center in Ulm (DLR-QT). With research buildings such as the Ulm Center of Quantum Bioscience (ZQB), the Center for Applied Quantum Technology in Stuttgart (ZAQuant) and the infrastructure of the companies, the future cluster has a unique research and development environment at its disposal.

“The long-standing, strategic cooperation of Ulm University and the University of Stuttgart in quantum technology forms the foundation of the new Cluster for Future. QSens enables us, together with our industry partners, to transfer results from basic research into promising, value-adding applications more quickly and with a greater focus,” said Ulm University President Professor Michael Weber. Following the announcement by Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek, Professor Wolfram Ressel, Rector of the University of Stuttgart, said, “I congratulate all of the scientists in Qsens at the University of Stuttgart and Ulm University on being among the winners of the BMBF competition, together with their research partners from the industry sector. This prominent funding contributes to the systematic continued development of quantum technology, an area of great potential, at the University of Stuttgart and the research expertise at Ulm University. It will increase the visibility of our research achievements in this future-oriented field.”

Knowledge and technology transfer from the Future Cluster

In the future, services such as Quantum4 KMU (Quantum for SMEs) will also contribute to the technology transfer of this cluster. QSens stakeholders will use this platform to pass on their knowledge to smaller companies and even open up their laboratories. The intention here is to eliminate the initial hurdles to using quantum technology. There will also be something called a quantum incubator – in the “founder’s space”, researchers and students can develop ideas for start-ups and ask QSens members for advice.

With its open-topic Clusters4Future competition, the BMBF aims to promote and strengthen knowledge and technology transfer as part of its High-Tech Strategy 2025. The seven future clusters were selected by an independent jury of experts in a multi-stage process. A total of 137 competitive proposals were submitted. The clusters are scheduled to enter the first three-year funding phase in the fall. Each phase will be funded with up to 15 million euros. Provided the evaluation is positive, three funding phases are possible. Other topics addressed in new future clusters include mobility concepts, sustainable use of the oceans, AI chips and gene therapy.

Media contact: Annika Bingmann

Artificial nanodiamonds can be used to improve sensors and imaging processes. Such artificial diamonds are also being used in the new QSens future cluster (photo: Heiko Grandel)
[Translate to english:] Prof. Ankerhold
Professor Joachim Ankerhold, Head of the Institute for Complex Quantum Systems and Vice-President for Research at Ulm University, now also researches as part of the QSens project (photo: Eberhardt/Ulm University)