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NEWS | Dec. 8, 2020

Navy Scientist Retires, Receives Award for Quantum Physics Innovation to Impact Future Fleet

By NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications

DAHLGREN, Va. – A Navy scientist was awarded for improving quantum sensor designs with a new device projected to impact metrology, gravimetry and topside design, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) announced Dec. 7.

Dr. Dan Parks received the 2020 NSWCDD In-house Laboratory Independent Research (ILIR) Excellence Award for his investigation into what he calls the Canonical Optical Weak Value Amplifier Device (COWVAD).

“It is an honor to receive this award for in-house laboratory independent research in quantum physics,” said Parks who retired prior to the announcement. “I want to express my thanks to the NSWC Dahlgren Division leadership for recognizing the importance of quantum physics to the future of the fleet and the security of our nation.”

Parks led the NSWCDD Quantum Technologies Group – chartered to identify or develop militarily useful hyper-capable devices – since 1996 and throughout its investigation into COWVAD.

“With the exception of nuclear weapons and the global position navigation system that was made possible by Einstein’s theories of relativity as well as ultra-precise atomic clocks, lasers, and tunnel diode semiconductors - contemporary military technologies are underpinned by the classical physics discovered prior to 1900,” said Parks. “However, these classical theories do not describe the peculiar counter-intuitive physical phenomena observed at the atomic scale.”

Consequently, Parks and his colleagues researched new theories and investigated atomic scale counter-intuitive physical phenomena. They recreated a linear, laser-based weak value amplifier that integrated updated technologies, like high-definition cameras instead of quadrant detectors.

“Quantum mechanics has been developed during the last hundred plus years to describe the physical phenomena of the micro-universe,” said Parks. “As it stands today, quantum mechanics is the most successful of all physics theories.”

Over the years, Parks and his team worked directly with Israeli physicist Dr. Yakir Aharonov – a frequent Nobel Prize nominee and 2010 National Medal of Science winner. Their collaborative work validated aspects of Aharonov’s theory which extends standard quantum mechanics to include weak measurements and weak values.

“I have found that it is important in many areas in theoretical quantum physics,” said Parks, who refers to weak energy as “a peculiar kind of quantum mechanical energy”.

Weak measurements are also unobtrusive and make it possible to measure something, such as a photon (particle of light) without affecting it.

“The development of hyper-capable devices which exploit the extremely weird features of deep quantum reality is enabled by Dr. Yakir Aharonov’s theory. Such a device could directly catalyze time in order to speed-up information processing,” said Parks, who discovered weak energy during an optics experiment 24 years ago. “From a Navy applications perspective, I believe that weak energy can provide enhancements to energetics, possible new energy transfer techniques, and devices that can perform more work than is possible by comparable traditional energy systems.”

The ILIR Excellence Award specifically honors Parks for research resulting in a new understanding and exploitation of weak value amplification for the purpose of weak optical signal detection using a very simple weak value amplifier – COWVAD – that he developed at NSWCDD.

Weak value amplification – a special quantum mechanical measurement technique – can render observable an otherwise unobservable signal.

What’s more, weak value enhancements provide a quantum advantage to a range of small mechanical sensors such as gyroscopes and gravimeters. “These types of technologies span the entire landscape of military technologies and an improvement in this area would represent a quantum leap in capability,” according to a COWVAD brief presented at the 2020 End of Year ILIR virtual poster session broadcast to the warfare center’s military personnel, government employees and contractors via Teams. 

Parks foresees military applications of COWVAD that range from metrology and gravimetry to topside design.

Metrology is the science of measurement in support of engineering. Gravimetry – the measurement of a gravitational field’s strength – may be used when the magnitude of a gravitational field or the properties of matter responsible for its creation are of interest.

Naval topside design for combat ships is by necessity a search to find innovative ways to meet competing requirements for system functionality within limited space, weight, and cost constraints.

The topside of a Navy warship must accommodate a wide array of combat systems, command, control, communication and intelligence and hull, mechanical and electrical functions while maintaining maximum functionality of all systems to do their individual jobs. At the same time, the topside must continue serving the basic ship operational functions such as underway replenishment, refueling at sea, flight operations, small boat deployment, docking and maneuvering, navigation, and personnel movement.

“A significant portion of this research was directed towards experimentally determining engineering parameters required to optimize COWVAD performance,” said Parks. “The remaining research was theoretical in nature and focused upon alternative approaches to COWVAD detection of ultra-weak signals; signal and energy correlations in COWVAD; and unusual symmetries associated with the COWVAD measurement process.”

The ILIR program – established to promote fundamental research across areas important to the Navy – enables the NSWCDD scientists and engineers to actively participate in the creation of future naval innovations.

“NSWC Dahlgren has a strong track record of providing novel discoveries and technologies to the warfighter, and programs such as ILIR are crucial to maintaining our competitive advantage over our adversaries,” said Dr. Chris Weiland, NSWCDD acting chief scientist.

ILIR projects are funded by the Office of Naval Research to promote scientific discovery that can have implications in future conflicts, 10 to 20 years in the future.  

“ILIR program support and trust in me as a researcher has enabled me to increase my understanding of this peculiar form of energy,” said Parks. “I am grateful for the basic research opportunities afforded to me by the NSWC Dahlgren Division ILIR program.”

The science and technology strategy developed by ONR provides the direction for leveraging Navy advances in knowledge and technology.

This ONR science and technology strategy seeks to achieve innovation through two programs of research. The first research program – Discovery and Invention (6.1 and 6.2) – includes elements of basic and applied research. The second program – Exploitation and Deployment to meet Future Naval Capabilities (6.2 and 6.3) – features elements of applied and advanced development research.

The ILIR Discovery and Invention Program’s funding category (6.1 and 6.2) provides for discretionary basic research at participating Navy laboratories and warfare centers. The ILIR program provides Navy laboratories and warfare centers with the means to support important or promising basic research in the areas of their assigned missions. The funding enables a cadre of active research scientists to apply their research results to problems of naval interest while encouraging cooperation with universities, private industry, and other defense department laboratories.