News Release

Optica Foundation awards Theodor W. Hänsch prize in quantum optics to MIT “Dark Universe” researcher Victoria Xu

$20,000 USD prize honors achievements in using quantum optics to improve metrology and advance gravitational wave detection

Grant and Award Announcement


2023 Theodor W. Hänsch Prize in Quantum Optics recipient

image: Victoria Xu awarded the inaugural recipient of the Theodor W. Hänsch Prize in Quantum Optics. view more 

Credit: Victoria Xu

WASHINGTON – Today the Optica Foundation announced that Victoria Xu, postdoctoral scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research - LIGO Laboratory, USA, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Theodor W. Hänsch Prize in Quantum Optics. The prize recognizes Xu’s contributions in using quantum optics to fundamentally improve metrology through large-scale interferometers and advanced gravitational wave (GW) detection.

From early breakthroughs in quantum coherence for trapped atom interferometry and applications of cavity-enhanced atom interferometers to precision tests of new physics, Xu has dedicated her career to using quantum optics and precision interferometry to advance the understanding of nature. Her current work focuses on commissioning state-of-the-art quantum technologies into large-scale observatories for GW detection.

In fact, Xu’s latest research has contributed to broadband quantum enhancement of the LIGO detectors, enabling astrophysical sensitivities for GW detection beyond what can currently be achieved classically. This effort has led to a 40% reduction of quantum noise, corresponding to improved astrophysical detection rates of 60%. In the upcoming observing run, this quantum-enhanced sensitivity is expected to bring GW detection from a weekly to near-daily event, just nine years after the dawn of GW astronomy.

“There is no doubt that advances in quantum technologies will be central to any future gravitational wave instrument, and Dr. Xu will be at the vanguard of developing those in ways that optimize the astrophysical results that can be achieved,” said MIT’s Nergis Mavalvala, Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor of Astrophysics and Dean of the School of Science.

Selected from a wide pool of highly qualified proposals, Xu’s work stood out because of its real-world impacts. This research has the potential to transform GW astronomy from a field of astrophysics with limited, intermittent transient detections, to a burgeoning field of astrophysics with sufficient data to begin statistical analyses and population studies over cosmic time.

“The committee faced a challenging decision to choose between many exceptional early-career researchers focused on advancing quantum optics, and we are pleased to recognize Victoria Xu,” shared Hänsch Prize committee chair Yaseera Ismail, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. “We are inspired by her efforts to use quantum technology to help us better understand the universe and expand on the already impressive results from LIGO.”

The Theodor W. Hänsch Prize in Quantum Optics supports innovative projects that have the potential to make a meaningful and positive impact on the science and applications of optics-enabled quantum technologies. Created by the Optica Foundation in partnership with donors Hamamatsu Photonics, Menlo Systems and Thorlabs, the prize advances quantum optics and photonics by supporting the dynamic and rigorous research of early-career professionals, whose work strives to solve complex, theoretical or real-world problems.

“Menlo Systems, Hamamatsu Photonics and Thorlabs are thrilled to support the committee’s decision to recognize the tremendous potential of Victoria Xu at MIT and LIGO,” Michael Mei, Menlo Systems GmbH, Germany. “Her focus on precision and quantum metrology and commissioning new quantum technologies into large-scale use for gravitational wave detection will advance quantum optics, astrophysics and our understanding of the universe.”

Xu will be honored at Optica’s Quantum 2.0 conference, where there will be a formal presentation of her prize during the keynote session on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Xu plans to use the $20,000 USD award to enhance research opportunities, enable equipment purchases from new quantum companies and expand exploratory collaborations.

“Please accept my warmest congratulations to the first winner, Victoria Xu,” said Nobel Laureate Theodor W. Hänsch. “This recognition is truly well-deserved and I hope it serves as a springboard for a highly successful scientific career, leading to many more important discoveries in the future.”

"It is amazing that our demonstration of quantum optics can now directly expand our view of the dark universe through gravitational wave detection. I am only one small piece of our puzzle, and it is the work of our team here at LIGO and MIT that has enabled this milestone in quantum optics. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this project, and to work alongside such an incredible and welcoming group, where together we can commission one of the most sensitive detectors ever built," said Xu.

Through the support of its donors, the Optica Foundation supports the next generation of optics and photonics with trainings and opportunities for students and early-career professionals. For more information on the Theodor W. Hänsch Prize in Quantum Optics and other programs supported by the Optica Foundation, visit

About Optica Foundation
Established in 2002, the Optica Foundation carries out charitable activities in support of the society’s student and early career communities. We cultivate the next generation of leaders and innovators as they navigate advanced degree programs and become active members of research, engineering and business worldwide. The foundation also works to secure the endowments for Optica’s awards and honors programs. The foundation is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. For more information, visit

About Optica
Optica (formerly OSA), Advancing Optics and Photonics Worldwide, is the society dedicated to promoting the generation, application, archiving and dissemination of knowledge in the field. Founded in 1916, it is the leading organization for scientists, engineers, business professionals, students and others interested in the science of light. Optica’s renowned publications, meetings, online resources and in-person activities fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate scientific, technical and educational achievement. Discover more at:

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