Let There Be (Computerized) Light

Quantum computing can harness photons (units of light a thousand times thinner than a human hair) for technological use.

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Quantum computing draws on a simple principle: smaller, researchers hope, will always be faster.

Photons, the smallest indivisible unit of light, are a thousand times thinner than the width of an average human hair. Amr Helmy, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, uses photons of light to miniaturize technologies from health and environmental monitoring to security and telecommunications.

“The idea is to be able to miniaturize [technologies] and put them down on a little chip that can be battery powered, sitting in your cell phone or could be hooked up to your sort of tablet to provide you with a better monitoring of your vital signs, or environmental toxins, or otherwise, just by using the power of the phone itself and very little else,” says Helmy.

Light can be incredibly useful for environment sensors, says Helmy, providing a way to detect explosives or biomedical molecules remotely. While other technologies might be able to do the same job, he says that photonic devices need less fine tuning, and do the job automatically.

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Amr Helmy is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto. Prior to his academic career, he held a position at Agilent Technologies photonic devices, R&D division, in the UK between 2000 and 2004. He received his PhD and MSc from the University of Glasgow with a focus on photonic devices and fabrication technologies, in 1999 and 1995 respectively. He received his BSc from Cairo University in 1993, in electronics and telecommunications engineering.

His research interests include photonic device physics and characterization techniques, with emphasis on nonlinear and quantum optics in nanoscale semiconductors; applied optical spectroscopy; nanoscale fabrication and monolithic integration techniques.