Quantum Magnetometer Senses Its Place

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September 17, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: September 17 on

Scientists continue to search for new technologies to serve the positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) mission. One novel way to augment GPS comes from a newly developed technology involving a quantum magnetometer.

Researchers at Lockheed Martin call it Dark Ice; it uses magnetic sensing as an alternative means of determining location without use of satellite signals.

Mike DiMario and his team have developed a prototype magnetometer that uses a synthetic diamond the size of a salt crystal to measure the direction and strength of nearly imperceptible magnetic field anomalies. They overlay that data with maps of Earth’s magnetic field, supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, to produce precise location information.

Special quantum-level impurities in the molecular structure of the diamond, where intermittently a carbon atom drops out and its neighbor is a nitrogen atom, enable the detection of magnetic field waves. These nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers are hyper-sensitive magnetic sensors. When illuminated by a laser, the diamond emits more or less light depending on the surrounding magnetic field’s strength.