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Quantum Backbone

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A quantum frequency processor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Joseph Lukens is developing the infrastructure for a quantum-information highway.

Credit: Jason Richards/ORNL

For the past decade, Joseph Lukens has pushed the boundaries of manipulating light in photonic communications. While a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Purdue University, he co-discovered a way to hide data in an optical fiber stream of billionth-of-a-second, variously shaped light-wave pulses.  The 2013 research received global media coverage as a Harry Potter-esque photonic invisibility cloak. Now the research with the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory is extending his growing mastery of photons not to hide data but share it in a future quantum internet.

"The field of quantum information is poised to unleash a revolution in how we collect, process and secure information," says Lukens, a researcher in ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division since 2015. "Photons represent the best, and realistically, the only quantum particles capable of serving as flying qubits, or carriers of quantum information across significant distances."

His vision, outlined in a 50-page proposal entitled "Scalable architectures for hybrid quantum/classical networking," is remarkable for its stepwise approach to using advanced classical photonics technologies to create the nodes for such a system. The proposal calls for harnessing the existing vast fiber-optic communications infrastructure, including DOE's Energy Sciences Network, better known as ESnet and based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In this way both old and new technological approaches (classical and quantum) will use the same information highway, just as now internal combustion vehicles share the road with advanced electric autos.


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