Breakthroughs bring a quantum Internet closer

Universities around the world are making discoveries that advance technologies needed to underpin quantum computing.

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Breakthroughs in the manipulation of light are making it more likely that we will, in due course, be seeing a significantly faster and more secure Internet. Adoption of optical circuits in chips, for example, to be driven by quantum technologies could be just around the corner.

Physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have just announced a dramatic leap forward in the methods used to accurately place light sources in atom-thin layers. That fine positioning has been one block in the movement towards quantum chips.

“Previous circuits on chips rely on electrons as the information carriers,” the school explains in a press release. However, by using light instead, it's possible to send data at the faster speed of light, gain power-efficiencies and take advantage of quantum entanglement, where the data is positioned in multiple states in the circuit, all at the same time.

Roughly, quantum entanglement is highly secure because eavesdropping attempts can not only be spotted immediately anywhere along a circuit, due to the always-intertwined parts, but the keys can be automatically shut down at the same time, thus corrupting visibility for the hacker.

The school says its light-source-positioning technique, using a three-atom-thick layer of the semiconductor molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) as the initial material and then irradiating it with a helium ion beam, controls the positioning of the light source better, in a chip, than has been achieved before.

They say that the precision now opens the door to quantum sensor chips for smartphones, and also “new encryption technologies for data transmission.” Any smartphone sensor also has applications in IoT.

The TUM quantum-electronics breakthrough is just one announced in the last few weeks. Scientists at Osaka University say they’ve figured a way to get information that’s encoded in a laser-beam to translate to a spin state of an electron in a quantum dot. They explain, in their release, that they solve an issue where entangled states can be extremely fragile, in other words, petering out and not lasting for the required length of transmission. Roughly, they explain that their invention allows electron spins in distant, terminus computers to interact better with the quantum-data-carrying light signals.

“The achievement represents a major step towards a ‘quantum internet,’ the university says.

“There are those who think all computers, and other electronics, will eventually be run on light and forms of photons, and that we will see a shift to all-light,” I wrote earlier this year.

That movement is not slowing. Unrelated to the aforementioned quantum-based light developments, we’re also seeing a light-based thrust that can be used in regular electronics too.

Engineers may soon be designing with small photon diodes (not traditional LEDs, which are also diodes) that would allow light to flow in one direction only, says Stanford University in a press release. They are using materials science and have figured a way to trap light in nano-sized silicon. Diodes are basically a valve that stops electrical circuits running in reverse. Light-based diodes, for direction, haven’t been available in small footprints, such as would be needed in smartphone-sized form factors, or IoT sensing, for example.

One grand vision is to have an all-optical computer where electricity is replaced completely by light and photons drive all information processing,” Mark Lawrence of Stanford says. “The increased speed and bandwidth of light would enable faster solutions.”

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