Oxford firm launches to develop quantum-era sensor technology

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8th November 2018

Oxford HighQ, a spinout from Oxford University, aims to revolutionise chemical and nanoparticle sensor technology with ‘quantum’ sensors up to 10,000 times more sensitive than current counterparts.

Oxford HighQ, a quantum technologies spinout from Oxford University, has launched with £2.1m in seed funding to commercialise components of quantum computing technology developed at the University, providing a step change in performance for chemical and nanoparticle sensing.

Oxford HighQ is developing sensors with sensitivity up to 10,000 times that of currently available optical sensing technologies. Responding to an increased demand from the market for robust, compact and parallelised sensors, the company is planning for its technology to be used for applications in a number of different sectors, including in environmental monitoring, medical diagnostics and nanomedicine.

The optical microresonators at the heart of the sensors are the result of a collaboration between Professor Jason Smith at Oxford University’s Department of Materials and Professor Claire Vallance in the Department of Chemistry with support from postdoctoral researchers Aurélien Trichet and Dean James. The microresonators were originally developed for use in quantum technologies where fine control is required over the interaction between light and matter at microscopic length scales.

Ongoing work led by Professor Smith in the UK Hub in Networked Quantum Information Technology (NQIT), coordinated by Oxford and one of the four Hubs that form the UK’s £270m National Quantum Technologies Programme, uses the devices in the development of quantum computers. The realisation of technologies such as Oxford HighQ’s sensors is widely recognised as an important incidental benefit of government investment into quantum technologies, for which high precision measurements and exquisite control over quantum systems are essential capabilities.

The seed round for Oxford HighQ was led by Longwall Ventures, an investment fund with extensive experience of sensing technologies and based at Harwell Science Park. Oxford HighQ and Oxford University have also been awarded £850k by InnovateUK and EPSRC for a collaborative project to develop the technology. The investment will be used to develop a nanoparticle characterisation scientific instrument aimed at markets including R&D and process control.

Jeremy Warren, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at HighQ, said:

“We expect that HighQ’s ability to design, fabricate and operate optical microcavities will deliver profound advances in the sensing of nanoparticles and chemicals in fluids. Early applications will be in laboratory instruments but the potential for compact devices relevant to several market sectors is clear.”

Jason Smith, co-founder and Professor of Photonic Materials and Devices, added:

“The benefits of using optical microresonators for sensing has been known for a long time, but the realisation of practical devices has been hampered by difficulties in fabrication and in engineering the surrounding systems. We believe that Oxford HighQ’s sensors provide a solution that will deliver step changes in performance across a wide range of applications where high sensitivity and compact devices are important.”

David Denny, Partner at Longwall Venture Partners, added:

“We are incredibly excited about the market opportunities for the next generation chemical and nanoparticle sensors being developed by the talented team at Oxford HighQ. Having worked closely with them over a number of months, it is clear that their work will lead to a real step change in the industry and we are delighted to support them as they enter this key phase of their growth and development.”

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