Muquans, quantum lumps – Girondins Judicial Echoes

The Gironde company Muquans, number one in quantum sensors in France, was founded in Talence by three physicists with great industrial ambitions. Ten years later, it changes dimension by joining the iXblue company, which aims to rank European leaders in photonics and quantum technologies. Philippe Bouyer, research director at CNRS and co-founder of Muquans, looks back on the journey of this nugget.

Muquans ETNA

Muquan’s quantum gravimeter, installed on Etna in Sicily, analyzes the evolution of the volcano’s magmatic pockets © DR

The French leader in quantum sensors is from Girondin and has big ambitions. That’s why Muquans has just teamed up with the company iXblue, which bought it in June 2021, to create a European leader in photonics and quantum technologies. Since its inception in 2011, its founders had viewed Muquans as “a competitive industrial company,” explains Philippe Bouyer.

This CNRS research director, also the deputy director of the Aquitaine department of the Graduate School Optics Institute (IOGS), had been working on quantum sensors for about ten years when he Arnaud Landdragin, also research director at CNRS in Paris, they develop “a product with a level of complexity, reliability and price that is perfectly acceptable to be put on the market”, he assures us. They file a patent and then create their start-up. “Wonderful about their invention”, Bruno Desruelle, who like his two colleagues drafted his thesis into the team of physicist Alain Aspect, a pioneer in applied quantum physics in the 1980s, joined them to take over the leadership of Muquans. “Thanks to his career in the industry, the three of us formed an extremely operational association,” notes Philippe Bouyer.

Knowledge transfer to industry

Winner of the Oseo competition (now Bpifrance) for business creation, similar to the current iLab competition, which was located in the Unitec incubator in Pessac in the beginning, then at IOGS in Talence, where its premises still exist, the start-up Muquans could benefit from getting started “from the extremely favorable soil that existed in New Aquitaine. There was already a system 10 years ago involving all actors in innovation: the Region, Oseo, the Aquitaine incubator, Unitec, etc. “Emphasizes Philippe Bouyer. Together with Arnaud Landdragin, and thanks to the law of innovation, he was also able to remain a research official” while directing the development of the company and ensuring the transfer of the developed knowledge to the industry ” .

It is also thanks to this foothold in their laboratories that the founders were able to recruit physicists whom they themselves had trained through specialties. Muquans, which today has about thirty employeesbrings together different profiles of physicists, engineers, technicians, salesmen who are able to make electronics, assemble photonic systems, build quantum systems, but also sell them.

Duality and overlay

This famous invention in the origin of Muquans are an extremely accurate sensor, based on two principles of quantum physics. The first, imagined by Louis de Broglie and Albert Einstein in the early 20th century, corresponds to the “wave-particle duality”. “An atom cools down to a temperature very close to absolute zero, after which it will behave like a substance wave,” explains Philippe Bouyer. The second is the “superposition principle”: “by illuminating the substance wave with a laser, we will be able to put it simultaneously in two superimposed states, which will then make it possible to measure the variations it undergoes”.

Muquan’s quantum gravimeter can thus measure the earth’s gravitational field. “The attraction of gravity varies both spatially: it depends on what is underground. But also in time as for the phenomenon of the tide,” notes the physicist. This quantum gravimeter provides valuable information about the composition of the subsoil (the attraction varies depending on the density of the buried material) and also makes it possible to study the evolution of resources such as water in the groundwater or magma pockets in volcanoes.

The joint dynamics between Muquans and iXblue should boost all development around quantum technologies

Muquans and iXAtom

© DR

Muquans in number

Creation date : 2011
Acquisition of iXblue: 2021
Workforce: about thirty people
Price of a quantum gravimeter: about 500,000 euros
CA 2020: about 3 million euros
Growth: x 3 in 5 years

500,000 euros for a quantum gravimeter

“We can thus understand the evolution of the Earth, of its resources. Our primary market is therefore geophysics laboratories, which are very happy with this type of apparatus”, assures Philippe Bouyer. Muquans also has potential for use in exploration for buried resources, as it makes it possible to know the composition of the subsoil without having to dig. Or even in the military field, “knowledge that the mapping of gravity is very strategic, to be able to position and guide oneself”, clarifies the research director at CNRS.

Muquans’ goal since its inception has been to offer a system that is the simplest to use, the most reliable, the most resilient and the most competitive possible “to address an ever-growing market”, assures Philippe Bouyer, who had incorporated size and weight restrictions in its invention. Sold at a price of around 500,000 euros, the quantum gravimeter on Muquans have already been exported to Japan, in Germany, Mexico and the USA, and was installed at Etna in Sicily. Its fourth version, the most resistant under extreme conditions, will soon operate in Antarctica.

Muquan’s quantum sensor makes it possible to know the composition of the subsoil without having to dig

Strategic partnership for the quantum computer

Due to this unique expertise, which has made Muquans the French leader in quantum sensors, the company has started producing the technological bricks needed for the design of quantum systems. In particular, it has signed a strategic partnership with the company Pasqal, based in Île-de-France, which raised 25 million euros in 2021 to develop its quantum computer, which Muquans manufactures in Talence, within IOGS, the optical systems. Her know-how also led her to build another type of sensor: a quantum clock, also called an atomic clock, that is capable of defining “a second with 18 decimal places behind it. It does so ultra-precisely over billions of years”, assures Philippe Bouyer Devices of approximately one cubic meter, which allow perfect synchronization, anywhere in the world, at any time, and which find applications in data transmission or transport.

Growth handle

A series of products that greatly interested the company iXblue, another specialist in photonic and quantum systems based in Île-de-France, which had already worked for a few years with Muquans on its inertial navigation systems embedded in aircraft, boats and even in space. Also driven by a “genuine desire to establish itself in New Aquitaine”, iXblue thus bought Muquans in June 2021.

For the Gironde company, this is a way to quickly screw up and grow a turnover that tops around 3 million euros, “limited by the size of the company”, believes Philippe Bouyer. “By relying on a well-established company like iXblue”, which has more than 700 employees spread all over the world and which has also just taken over the photonics specialist based in Pessac Kylia, “will give us access to a network of global commercial distribution and a integrated customer base. And allow us to create vertical integration, which are two important aspects to increase our production capacity and our growth, ”analyzes Muquan’s co-founder and scientific advisor.

The source of the quantum

“There really is a common dynamic between our two companies that should boost all development around quantum technologies,” assures Philippe Bouyer, who is leading the project to create a neo-Aquitaine center for quantum technologies, NaQuiDis (see next article), at territory. Muquans will also be able to benefit from iXblue’s constant innovation dynamics. “We hope to be able to develop our product range even further,” said the CNRS research director.

With especially smaller and smaller gravimeters, with variable levels of sensitivity, adapted to different applications and applications and able to connect to networks. Or even gradiometers, which directly measure the spatial variation of gravity. And above all, quantum inertia navigation devices, whose guidance is based on analysis of motion, position, acceleration. Muquans now have what it takes to “be ahead of the competition”. Still in New Aquitaine, “near the academic labs, for that is where the source of all the innovations around quantum technology is today,” Philippe Bouyer concludes.

It is in academic laboratories, especially in New Aquitaine, that the source of all innovations around quantum has been found.


© DR

Quantum is amazing

Quantum physics, which is interested in behavior on the scale of the infinitely small, is moving from a conceptual revolution to a technological revolution. The first discoveries took place almost a century ago and led in particular to the invention of the laser and modern electronics. The second quantum revolution that is currently taking place is based on “manipulation of these infinitely small objects (atoms, photons, ions, etc.) and the use of their quantum properties, namely superposition (which allows an atom to find two places in the same time or in two different states) and entanglement (the memory of an interaction) “, explains physicist Philippe Bouyer.” This constitutes a fundamental break “, assures the research director at CNRS, materialized by three pillars: the quantum computer (with phenomenal computing capacity), ultra-secure communication ( based on quantum entanglement) and finally quantum sensors (extremely accurate).

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