Ben Sparkes

Dr Ben Sparkes

DECRA Fellow

School of Physical Sciences

Faculty of Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

I am an ARC DECRA Fellow in the Precision Measurement Group in the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (School of Physics Sciences), working towards realising a fibre-based optical quantum information network for absolutely secure communications and next-generation computing. I obtained my PhD in Physics from the Australian National University in 2013, where I developed techniques to store and manipulate optical quantum information. In 2013 I moved to the University of Melbourne to work on the development of a cold atom electron/ion source, our goal being to create ultra-short ultra-bright bunches of electrons for single-shot diffraction imaging of biological samples, as well as incredibly focused ion beams for sub-nanometer resolution fabrication. I was awarded a McKenzie Fellowship from the University of Melbourne from 2014-2016, which allowed me to investigate novel methods to improve the source performance.

Our aim is to combine Australia's pioneering work developing specialised atom-filled optical fibres with world-leading quantum information storage protocols to probe the extreme limits of atom-light interactions. This will enable the creation of a compact, robust and modular node to efficiently store and process packets of optical quantum information. The node will integrate directly with current communications infrastructure, allowing for the creation of a quantum internet - the vital missing ingredient needed to overcome the significant experimental hurdles that are limiting the potential of current quantum technologies. In 2018 we published work in Physical Review Applied showing successful loading of a record number of laser-cooled atoms into a hollow-core fibre (as shown in the movie below). This work was reported on in the Adelaide Advertiser, The Lead, and the UK Daily Mail along with other international news outlets.

Creating a Quantum Information Node: the above movie shows the silhouette of a cloud of almost a billion cold atoms, each a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero, as they are released from a magneto optical trap, fall under gravity and are optically guided into our hollow-core fibre (white silhouette). Courtesy of Mr Ashby Hilton.

Our work has been featured in an ABC news story about photonics research in Adelaide (full news clip here), on Scope, and I have been interviewed on Radio Adelaide's Subatomic program. In July 2019 I presented the University of Adelaide Research Tuesday seminar on the important role quantum mechanics is playing in our lives today, and its promise for the world of tomorrow, which can be viewed here. For more information on the research being carried out by the Precision Measurement Group, please see our website.

I am also involved in outreach through The Amazing University of Adelaide Laser Radio program. For this work I was awarded the 2018 SA Tall Poppy of the Year award at the SA Science Excellence Awards.

Video courtesy of the Department for Industry and Skills, Government of South Australia.

Currently Held Grants and Fellowships:

  • DST-EQUS Grant (2019-2020)
    • Title: Frequency Conversion via Four-Wave Mixing for Long-Distance Quantum Communications
    • Chief Investigators: T. J. Weinhold, B. M. Sparkes
    • Funding: $100,000
    • Summary: Our aim is to demonstrate the feasibility of performing frequency conversion of light pulses from 795nm to 1530nm - a critical step for achieving long-distance quantum communications using efficient Rubidium-based quantum memories. We will achieve this by using four-wave mixing with warm Rubidium atoms stored in a hollow-core photonic crystal fibre.
  • Fulbright Future Scholarship (2019-2020)
    • Title: Changing Colours in Optical Fibres: The Key to Long-Distance Quantum-Secured Communications
    • Chief Investigators: B. M. Sparkes
    • Funding: $13,000
    • Summary: Information encoded onto single particles of light is the key to future global cybersecurity. This Fulbright Fellowship will combine unique Australian expertise in atom-light interactions with world-leading experience in mixing multi-coloured light fields at Columbia University to enable the development of next-generation secure communications by dramatically increasing the distance of quantum-secured fibre information networks. More information available here.
  • Australia-Germany Joint Research Co-Operation Scheme (2019-2020)
    • Title: Quantum Simulations with Stationary Light in Hollow Fibres
    • Chief Investigators: B. M. Sparkes, A. N. Luiten, C. Perrella, P. S. Light, J. P. Hedger, P. Windpassinger
    • Funding: $22,500
    • Summary: By engineering “crystals of light” through enhanced atom-light interactions within the hollow core of special optical fibres, this Project will realise a new, improved form of quantum simulator that will be flexible, scalable and easy to read. This is important as a quantum simulator will allow us to study crucial quantum systems that cannot be studied via conventional physics.
  • Next Generation Technology Fund (2019-2020)
    • Title: Quantum Radar for Stealth Detection
    • Chief Investigators: D. Ottaway, B. M. Sparkes, L. Swierkowski, B. Smith, G. Nash
    • Funding: $243,000
    • Summary: Quantum radar is a complex topic that encompasses many areas of physics and engineering. Research into quantum radar is evolving rapidly. This Project will combine expertise on classical radar and lidar systems, atmospheric physics, quantum optical information transmission and storage, as well as the engineering of novel light sources and detectors to provide an up-to-date expert assessment of feasibility and predicted benefit of quantum radar.
  • ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE170100752 (2017-2019)
    • Title: Fully-Integrated Fibre-Based Platform for a Quantum Information Network
    • Chief Investigator: B. M. Sparkes 
    • Funding: $360,000
    • Summary: This Project will implement novel quantum information storage protocols in the hollow-core fibre systems available at the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.

    Previously Held Grants and Fellowships:

    • ARC Linkage Project LP150101188 (2015-2018)
      • Title: Optical Technology for Quantum Science
      • Chief Investigators: R. E. Scholten, R. Starr, N. P. Robins, M. Biercuk, E. Huntington, B. M. Sparkes
      • Funding: $350,000
      • Summary: The Project is developing precision instrumentation both to enhance scientific research and to strengthen ties with industry through commercialisation.
    • University of Melbourne McKenzie Fellowship (2014-2017)
      • Title: High Resolution, Ultra-fast Imaging of Biological Crystals with a Cold Atom Electron/Ion Source
      • Chief Investigator: B. M. Sparkes
      • Funding: $320,000
      • Summary: This fellowship scheme is to attract outstanding recent doctoral graduates to the University of Melbourne, and provided me with salary and $25k for the purchase of equipment over three years.
    • Defence Science and Technology Group CERA Grant (2017-2018)
      • Title: High-Performance Optical Clock for Satellite and UAV Applications
      • Chief Investigator: C. Perrella; Associate Investigators: P. Light, F. Baynes, B. M. Sparkes, A. Luiten
      • Funding: $97,711
      • Summary: This Project, in the inaugural DST CERA round, is aiming to develop a high-performance and compact optical clock for GPS applications.

    My teaching at the University of Adelaide includes:

    • Photonics IV (Lecturer, 2017-2019)
    • Optics and Photonics III (Lecturer, 2017-2018)
    • Principles & Practice of Research II (Mentor, 2018)
    • Principles & Practice of Research III (Mentor, 2018)


    • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

      Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
      2018 Principal Supervisor Cold Atoms for Quantum Information Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Jonathan Peter Hedger
      2018 Principal Supervisor Quantum Optics in Hollow-Core Fibres Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Jed Anthony Rowland
    • Committee Memberships

      Date Role Committee Institution Country
      2018 - ongoing Member IPAS Scientific Leadership Committee Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing Australia
      2018 - ongoing Co-Chair IPAS Science Network University of Adelaide Australia
      2017 - 2017 Member IPAS Science Network University of Adelaide Australia
    • Memberships

      Date Role Membership Country
      2014 - ongoing Member Australian Institute of Physics Australia
      2014 - ongoing Member American Physical Society United States
      2009 - ongoing Member Optical Society of America United States
      2009 - ongoing Member Australian Optical Society Australia
    • Position: DECRA Fellow
    • Phone: 83130853
    • Email:
    • Campus: North Terrace
    • Building: The Braggs, floor 1
    • Room: 1 82
    • Org Unit: Physics

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