University of New Orleans math professor Peter Bierhorst has received an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further his research in quantum entanglement, a phenomenon whereby entangled microscopic particles can be separated by great distances and yet appear to act in concert instantaneously.
The strong connection between the entangled particles can be harnessed to create shared secret codes among distant parties, for cryptography and secure communication, said Bierhorst, whose expertise is addressing practical problems in secure communication through quantum physics.
A major component of the project will be to send UNO undergraduate and graduate students to the University of Colorado Boulder during the summers to work and train on the high-tech experimental platforms for quantum networking that are being built there, Bierhorst said.
“The platform being built in Boulder is a physical network of fiber optic cables joining stations at different locations in the city,” he said. “Each station has apparatuses for generating and measuring entangled photons, then sending the photons to the other stations through the cables.”
A portion of the three-year grant total is subcontracted to the University of Colorado Boulder for testing the multiple entangled effects, Bierhorst said.
“This work will serve as a training platform to build expertise among undergraduate and graduate students, providing a critical boost to the emergence of a quantum-trained workforce capable of tackling the problems of tomorrow,” Bierhorst said. “This project involves sending up to two UNO students to Boulder each summer, where they will train on these projects and learn about them.
“I’m enthusiastic to find and recruit students for this opportunity from all STEM departments at UNO, not just my own.”
Bierhorst’s award is one of 22 grants that is part of a $38 million investment that the National Science Foundation is making to expand its support for quantum information science and engineering.
Another future application of the research could be distributed quantum computing, where many quantum computers connected through quantum-enabled links can effectively be combined into a single larger and more powerful quantum computer, Bierhorst said. This wouldn’t be possible with normal internet links alone because of the potential for the messages to be intercepted or copied.
The normal internet sends zeros and ones in a classical sense using strong electrical signals; each 0 or 1 consisting of thousands or millions of electrons moving through a copper wire, or photons through a fiber optic cable. Such signals don’t demonstrate any quantum effects; for instance, they can be easily intercepted and copied.
The quantum internet will send signals one quantum photon at a time and so the signals can be entangled.
“Entanglement holds great promise to revolutionize communication in network settings where multiple separated users will someday possess and share entangled quantum particles—the ‘quantum internet’ of the future,” Bierhorst said.