Dr. Tobias Vogl aligns an optical chip with a quantum light source.

„Photonic Ecosystem“ – from Jena though the world

This year's Young Scientist Award of the Beutenberg Campus e.V. honors Dr. Tobias Vogl.
Dr. Tobias Vogl aligns an optical chip with a quantum light source.
Image: Jens Meyer (University of Jena)
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This year's Young Scientist Award of the Beutenberg Campus e.V. honors Dr. Tobias Vogl, who joined the University of Jena as a postdoctoral researcher in 2019 after completing his Ph.D. at the Australian National University.

The award criteria, including 

  • the quality and scientific rigor of the work reflected in the number and significance of publications,
  • the relevance of the work to the campus's motto "Life Science meets Physics,"
  • the mobility/internationality of the candidates,

are exceptionally fulfilled by the leader of the research group "Integrated Quantum Systems."

Quality and scientific rigor of the work considering the age of the researcher

During his Ph.D., Mr. Vogl introduced a new topic to his former research group under Prof. Ping Koy Lam: the utilization of 2D materials for quantum optical experiments. This led to a series of first-author publications in renowned scientific journals. With his results and dissertation, Dr. Vogl also completed the best Ph.D. in Physics at the Australian National University in 2019, and he was nominated for the Bragg Gold Medal by the Australian Institute of Physics as one of the top ten physics Ph.D. candidates in Australia that year.

Basis of his scientific success

During his Ph.D., Mr. Vogl developed, optimized, and prepared room-temperature quantum emitters from the 2D material hexagonal boron nitride for use in modern quantum technologies. He initially developed and optimized a fabrication process for these emitters, which exhibited exceptional photophysical properties. The precise atomic structure of these emitters was unknown (and still partially is), but Tobias Vogl succeeded in developing and describing a model for the different emitters through fundamental experiments. Additionally, Mr. Vogl investigated their potential applications, including the direct coupling of emitters to optical fibers (e.g., for quantum networks). One of the most significant achievements was the coupling of an emitter to a microresonator, a success that had been pursued by scientific groups worldwide before and after. He integrated this resonator-coupled light source into a prototype small satellite and qualified it for space. This study was featured as a Condensed Matter Highlight of the Month in the journal Nature Communications (March 2019). The research explored not only the radiation tolerance of quantum emitters for satellite-based quantum communication, which had not been previously investigated, but also qualified 2D materials in general for space applications. "This includes, for example, atomically thin field-effect transistors that could make future satellite electronics more efficient and lighter. We were particularly surprised by a novel defect healing mechanism that we observed in the experiments, where gamma rays can permanently improve a material (respectively its optical properties). With further experiments and theoretical simulations, we were able to fully elucidate the mechanism behind this effect," explains Dr. Tobias Vogl.

Time in Jena and internationality

In his first year as a postdoc at IAP, Tobias Vogl received a research project from the German Research Foundation (DFG), which was the first and very early step toward scientific independence. In this project, he developed a novel excitation mechanism for single-photon sources and explored their use in quantum cryptography. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he managed to maintain intensive collaboration with the Cavendish Laboratory through a joint postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Cambridge. In the same year, he started building an international research consortium aimed at advancing single-photon sources for a global quantum internet. Due to the lack of efficient quantum repeaters, such a quantum network can only be established through satellite connections, as quantum information is exponentially attenuated in glass fibers and can only be transmitted over very long distances through the atmosphere. "Dr. Vogl and his consortium successfully aquired a project funding from the BMWK for the development of a quantum light source and the evaluation of its performance in space on a small satellite. He serves as the local project leader as well as the spokesperson and coordinator of the research consortium, which includes researchers from the University of Jena, the Ferdinand-Braun-Institute, the Leibniz Institute for High-Frequency Technology, the Technical University of Berlin, and associated partners at Fraunhofer IOF, the University of Cambridge, the National University of Singapore, and the Polytechnic University of Milan. Acquiring and coordinating such a research network at a young stage of his career is an accomplishment typically reserved for senior researchers with extensive experience," emphasized Prof. Stefan Nolte, who supports the research work with infrastructure.

"Life Science meets Physics"

"This space project not only tests the quantum light source as a central component for a global quantum network but also carries a quantum interferometer on board the satellite, which seeks to explore extended physical theories beyond the standard model in microgravity. This experiment could confirm or falsify certain quantum gravity theories," explained Dr. Tobias Vogl. While no deviations from the predictions of standard quantum mechanics have been found in terrestrial experiments conducted on the ground, this experiment is of great importance for fundamental physics. It achieved measurement accuracy increased by an order of magnitude compared to the state-of-the-art, making it the most precise test for this class of extended quantum theories beyond the standard model. "Experiments of this kind are extremely important for fundamental physics as they contribute to better understanding the coupling of gravity at the quantum level. Significant advances in the natural sciences have often been made when researchers pursued the unknown," Professor Nolte added.

Tobias Vogl has further developed this groundbreaking concept of optical quantum logic on a satellite and received the INNOspace Masters Award in 2021, endowed with €400,000, from the German Aerospace Center. This prize, resulting from an ideas competition, promotes innovations between the space and non-space sectors.

In the following year, 2022, Mr. Vogl successfully obtained a junior research group funded by the BMBF. The group combines single-photon emitters in 2D materials with integrated optics. "This enables us to miniaturize complete quantum optical setups that were previously realized in laboratories into small quantum photonic chips. At the same time, this technology enables highly precise interferometric measurements, as outlined for tests beyond the standard model," Tobias Vogl expressed his excitement.

"This laid the foundation for the development of nanoscale quantum sensors. We found that the quantum emitters respond sensitively to various environmental properties such as temperature, currents, and magnetic fields and can be used for super-resolution imaging. As a result, not only can a single property of a sample be measured, but even all the aforementioned characteristics simultaneously with a resolution of approximately 1 nm."

"These nanoscale quantum sensors are highly compact yet more precise than currently available solutions, making them extremely promising for applications in the field of life sciences. The magnetic field sensors could enhance the precision and resolution of medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. The compactness even opens up the possibility of using mobile devices in an ambulance during major natural disasters," outlines Stefan Nolte, describing the potential application areas of this technology. "Mr. Vogl has been at the forefront of the development of room-temperature quantum emitters since their discovery, rapidly advancing them to a stage where they can be utilized in modern quantum technologies, including space-based applications and nanoscale quantum sensors in medical diagnostics and super-resolution imaging."

In addition to acquiring over €7.5 million in third-party funding, publishing a significant number of articles in prestigious scientific journals such as Nature Physics and Nature Communications, and receiving invitations to international conferences and colloquia, Tobias Vogl supervises eight doctoral students, three master's theses, and leads two postdoctoral researchers. Furthermore, he is actively involved in teaching at the university.

When asked about the spice behind these remarkable achievements, Tobias Vogl responds, "The 'Photonic Ecosystem' in Jena, particularly here at the Beutenberg campus, has facilitated these research accomplishments for me and my team. It is a special place with fertile ground."

We warmly congratulate Dr. Tobias Vogl for these outstanding accomplishments and look forward to future developments, including at his new location, the Technical University of Munich (TUM).