Skip to main content

Commercialising our Terahertz technology: from astronomy to the international market

Technologies developed by our researchers have been adapted and commercialised by industrial partners to significantly increase global sales and revenue and to secure funding.

Our research in THz astronomical instrumentation developed a series of interlinked technologies including sensitive detector systems, sub-kelvin coolers, and unique optical components. These technologies have been adapted and commercialised through three partner organisations, with applications in semiconductor materials characterisation, fusion plasma diagnostics, electron spin resonance spectroscopy, and security imaging. The research enabled more than £7M in global sales for spin-out company QMCI Ltd, doubled revenue to £500K per annum for Chase Cryogenics Ltd, and launched Sequestim Ltd, a new company employing three staff and securing over £1.1M in private and public-sector funding.


The Astronomy Instrumentation Group (AIG), a research group in the School of Physics and Astronomy, is a recognised world leader in the design, manufacture, and integration of THz (also known as far-infrared/sub-millimetre) technology for astronomy instrumentation. Our research has been key to UK involvement in virtually all THz telescopes worldwide, and supported through successive PPARC, STFC, UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, and European Union research and development grants, totalling more than £31M since 2001. The group explores the THz spectral region, which contains the signatures of star formation, galaxy-formation and evolution, and of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation used to probe the Big Bang.

The requirement for ever-more sensitive THz instruments has driven our development of the critical underpinning technologies, such as filters and quasioptics, detectors, and cryogenics, which are then exploited in commercial applications. Since 2001, our researchers have held leadership positions in many high-profile multi-national astronomical instrument collaborations including the High Frequency Instrument on the Planck CMB satellite, the SPIRE instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory, the NASA-led BLAST balloon project.

These projects required highly sensitive detectors operating at ultra-low temperatures , specialised filters and optics to select observational bands and block unwanted radiation and heat, innovative low-loss optical designs, and novel cryogenic systems to cool the detectors and lower the photon background. Key innovations from our research included:

1. Filters and quasi-optical components

The AIG has unique capabilities in quasi-optical devices and meta-materials and is the sole global provider of many innovative optical components and materials crucial to successful THz detection and imaging. These include band-defining and thermally controlling filters, novel meta-material flat lenses, dichroics, polarization modulators, and other more specialised, bespoke devices.

2. Ultrasensitive detectors

We have designed, built, and tested bolometric detector systems for many astronomical instruments, as well as for commercial partners. A major activity was the design, build and test of the focal plane unit for the Planck-HFI satellite instrument.

3. Continuous cryogen-free cooling

The AIG has worked for many years with commercial partner Chase Instruments Ltd. on the design and evolution of sub-kelvin cooling systems and their Technical Director, Dr Simon Chase, holds a visiting researcher post in the School. This collaboration recently culminated in the first demonstration of true continuous cooling to 0.3 K in a cryogen-free cooling system. This is now offered as a commercial product and has also been incorporated into the MUSCAT instrument, acting as a pathfinder for future applications in astronomy.


The technologies and techniques developed exclusively by our researchers were exploited by three commercial partners, QMC Instruments Ltd (QMCI), Chase Cryogenics Ltd and Sequestim Ltd.

QMC Instruments Ltd

Our technologies are predominately made available to the global market via Cardiff University's spin-out company QMC Instruments Ltd (QMCI). QMCI is an established market leader in many aspects of THz instrumentation, offering customised systems for applications in astronomy, hot plasma fusion diagnostics, and electron spin resonance spectroscopy. QMCI’s close collaboration with the research group ensures that technology is adopted swiftly and appropriately for commercial, civil, and government users.

QMCI has sold, since 2014, more than 40 cryogen-free systems which rely on the metal mesh filter and detector technology developed by the AIG, valued at approximately £75K each. The detector systems and associated readout technology are particularly valuable in second and third world countries where liquid cryogens are not readily available.

A new generation of detector array systems was developed by the AIG and introduced to the commercial market by QMCI in 2012. These ultra-low noise arrays reduce cost by removing the need for more expensive helium-3 based systems. These sophisticated systems command prices in the range of £100-£250K.

Since 2014 we have collaborated closely on business worth in excess of £7 million, comprising more than 160 individual sale contracts with customers in more than 30 countries including Europe, the US, and the Far East. This entire business volume relies directly on the unique terahertz detector and filter technology invented, developed and supplied by the AIG.

Chase Cryogenics Ltd

Chase Cryogenics Ltd utilised the Cardiff AIG research to produce the first commercially available continuous-operation helium-3 fridge. This device allows continuous operation at temperatures around 300 mK. Previously, maintaining temperatures at this level was only possible for periods of up to ~48 hrs before the system had to be “recycled”, meaning a break in operations of several hours before the required operating temperature could be achieved again, and requiring expert technical operation. This system is now a commercially available product and the turnover of the company has doubled over the last five years to more than £500k per annum.

Sequestim Ltd

Sequestim Ltd, a new spin-out company developed as a result of our research, was formally launched in 2019. The company commercialises new cameras for millimetre-wavelength video-rate scanning of humans and vehicles, with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution. This sensitivity is enabled by the unique combination of the Cardiff-developed filters, detectors, cryogenics, and optics. Sequestim holds a 25-year exclusive license to develop and exploit the technology for applications in THz security imaging. It currently employs three full-time staff and has developed its camera using three phases of UK government funding totalling over £1.1M. The camera system has been demonstrated to a wide range of stakeholders including Delta Airlines, International Airlines Group, Amazon, Dubai international Airport and a number of technical advisers to international governments. The system is of particular interest due to the ability to scan people without the removal of outer clothing so significantly reducing queueing time. Sequestim has recently secured investment from a private investor group.


Ade, P. A. R., et al., Planck 2013 results IX: HFI spectral response, Astronomy & Astrophysics, 571, A9, 2014.

Griffin, M. J., et al., The Herschel-SPIRE instrument and its in-flight performance, Astronomy & Astrophysics, 518, L3, 2010.

Pascale, E., et al., The Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope:BLAST, Astrophysical Journal, 681, 400, 2008.

Ade, P. A. R., and Tucker, C. E., A Review of Metal Mesh Filters, Proc. SPIE. 6275, 2006.

Doyle, S., et al., Lumped element kinetic inductance detectors, Journal of Low Temperature Physics,151, 530, 2008.

Klemencic, G., et al., A continuous dry 300 mK cooler for THz sensing applications, Review of Scientific Instruments, 87, 045107, 2016.