The Irwin Group
The Irwin group at Stanford pushes the limits of quantum measurement to probe the most fundamental questions of the universe (What makes up most of the matter in the galaxy? How did the universe come into existence?), as well as questions that are fundamental to human existence (How do metalloproteins make it possible for our blood to carry oxygen, and for plants to photosynthesize?)
At the heart of all these experimental endeavors lies a simple, yet profound, question: How well can we measure?
As physicists, we encounter this concept early in our training, learning that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle prevents us from knowing simultaneously the exact position and exact momentum of a particle. A broader survey of physics quickly reveals that the rules of quantum mechanics place powerful restrictions on all kinds of measurements, from the phase and amplitude of a radio signal to the displacement of a 100-pound mirror. It is natural to ask how we may measure as well as these limits allow, or how we may even evade these limits to better answer these fundamental questions. In the Irwin lab, we develop and apply quantum sensors to address the ever-present need for better measurement sensitivity. Sometimes, this means manipulating the electromagnetic properties of vacuum and more broadly, the quantum mechanics of photons.
These sensors are applied to a wide range of physics in our lab, including
- A search for dark matter made up of either spin-0 particles (axions) or spin-1 particles (hidden photons). The identity of dark matter - which makes up most of the matter in the universe - is one of the great outstanding mysteries of physics. The Dark Matter Radio (DM Radio), which operates in our laboratory at Stanford, searches for dark matter with mass between a pico electron volt and a micro electron volt.
- The development and deployment of sensors and superconducting integrated circuits to map the Cosmic Microwave Background in the search for gravitational waves from the inflationary epoch, and to answer a number of important questions in particle astrophysics and cosmology.
- The development of tools and techniques for high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy, enabling probes of metalloproteins with orders of magnitude higher efficiency than was previously possible and opening new doors for x-ray astrophysics.