The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards $12 million to develop systems that use photons in pre-determined quantum states as a way to encrypt data. Directed by NSF's Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (EFMA), the awards signal a major investment in quantum information science, one of NSF's “10 Big Ideas” for long-term discovery and innovation, according to the organization.
Researchers have long sought to encode photons -- minute particles of light -- with information that could travel through fiber optic cables across vast distances, and that would be immutably linked to a photon counterpart on the other end, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, according to NSF. A stream of encrypted data would follow behind each encoded photon. Any attempt to intercept, tamper with or divert the data would reportedly alter the entangled photon's quantum state and become evident on arrival at its destination. If a compromised photon is detected, the quantum key needed to unlock the encryption no longer works, and the communication remains secure.
As the demand for better cybersecurity increases, NSF will support six interdisciplinary teams consisting of 26 researchers at 15 institutions to perform research under the Advancing Communication Quantum Information Research in Engineering (ACQUIRE) research area in the NSF Directorate for Engineering's Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program, according to the organization. ACQUIRE researchers will reportedly embark on a four-year quest to engineer a quantum communication system on a chip. The chip will need to operate at room temperature with low energy in a fiber optic network with entangled photons, according to the organization. If successful, the ACQUIRE teams' results will begin to realize the hardware needed for secure and efficient quantum communication. The findings from the ACQUIRE projects will also advance quantum sensing and computing.
The following researchers will lead the six EFRI teams pioneering quantum communication systems:
- Dirk Englund, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scalable quantum communications with error-corrected semiconductor qubits
- Kai-Mei Fu, University of Washington, integrated quantum communication transmission node
- Alexander Gaeta, Columbia University, development of heterogenous platform for chip-based quantum information applications
- Qiang Lin, University of Rochester, scalable integrated quantum photonic interconnect
- Shayan Mookherjea, the University of California-San Diego, microchip photonic devices for quantum communication over fiber
- Hong Tang, Yale University, integrated nanophotonic solid state memories for telecom wavelength quantum repeaters
For more information, visit: www.nsf.gov