Let’s Get (Quantum) Physical

It's already upended our understanding of the universe; now we wonder, how will quantum physics begin shaping our everyday lives?

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Quantum physicist Thomas Jennewein, professor of physics at the University of Waterloo, is drawn to the mysteries and unknown phenomena that tend to come up a lot in his field. He studies the science of the microscopic: the particles and atoms that make up all the matter that surrounds us, and yet don’t seem to follow any of the intuitive rules of the world we experience.

For instance, a particle can be in two places at the same time… at least until we measure its location and it becomes defined. Particles can also somehow be correlated in a way that they can influence one another, even if they’re separated by vast distances. Given our normal intuition and understanding of the world, quantum physics is fascinating precisely because of the mysterious phenomena it uncovers, says Jennewein.

But even though the superposition of two simultaneous states or locations is central to quantum physics, exactly what is going on and why remain largely unknown. Jennewein is working to unlock these mysteries, at least to the extent that he can start turning them into real-world applications.

One of these is secure encryption. Attempts to tap or manipulate quantum information damages it, making hacking attempts easier to identify and stop in their tracks. Another application is connecting telescopes, which could then work together to improve observations.

Perhaps it makes sense that one of the biggest mysteries is exactly where quantum physics will take us, as the most sophisticated applications are most likely unforeseen, and will only emerge as quantum technologies are more broadly implemented.

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Thomas Jennewein completed his PhD thesis in 2002 at the University of Vienna, focusing on Quantum Communication and Teleportation Experiments with Entangled Photon Pairs.

In 2003 he changed to industry, and worked as an engineering consultant in the automotive industry (Munich), pioneering next-generation multimedia systems at Audi.

Since 2004, he was a senior researcher at the Vienna branch of Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) working on quantum photonics experiments, such as the generation of entangled photons with parametric down conversion and the long distance transmission of photons over optical fiber and free space. He is also a highly qualified electronics and software specialist, and has designed and built many novel research instruments, including single photon detectors as well as coincidence electronics.

In 2002 he was awarded the Loschmidt-Prize of the Austrian Physical-Chemical society for his PhD thesis. In 2006 he was able to attract a Linkage International Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, which enabled him to spend a six-month period in 2007 and 2008 with the University of Queensland.

In March 2009 Thomas joined the University of Waterloo as an Associate Professor with the Physics Department and became a member of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC).