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March 22, 2020

Partnership between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory Leads to New Methods of Quantum Communication


An aerial view of part of Argonne National Laboratory.

Courtesy of the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago, working with scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, has developed a new fiber-optic quantum loop to expand quantum communication experiments. The 52-mile-long loop, consisting of two 26-mile cables that link Argonne to the Illinois Tollway near suburban Bolingbrook, is one of the longest ground-based channels for quantum communication in the country.

This loop network gives researchers a platform for replicable testing of using quantum entanglement to send unhackable information over long distances, according to UChicago News. Researchers with both Argonne and UChicago plan to utilize this loop to examine and harness the properties of quantum entanglement. This phenomenon links two (or more) particles so that they are in a shared state such that whatever happens to one immediately affects the other, no matter how far apart they have traveled.

David Awschalom, principal investigator and professor of molecular engineering at the University of Chicago, believes that the establishment of the loop will help both the city of Chicago and the nation to build a similar network to securely transmit information and data over long distances.

“The loop will enable us to identify and address challenges in operating a quantum network and can be scaled to test and demonstrate communication across even greater distances to help lay the foundation for a quantum internet,” he said.

According to Argonne National Laboratory, researchers performed a series of experiments aimed to transmit signals using photon emission from ensembles of ions in the loop. These ions can serve as a form of “memory” for the loop. By creating this functional quantum memory, researchers can optimize quantum communication to form a quantum internet, a highly secure network of quantum computers and other quantum devices.

The research performed by the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory will lead to optimization of data collection and the internet, according to Paul Kearns, director of Argonne National Laboratory.

Along with the UChicago quantum loop, Argonne National Laboratory is working with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to plan and develop a similar two-way quantum link network. When the two projects are connected, it will form one of the longest networks that can be used to send secure information using quantum physics, according to Argonne National Laboratory.

Both Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago are members of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a community hub of researchers aimed at advancing academic and industrial efforts to understand quantum information. Funding for the quantum loop was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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