Do you remember tin can telephones? You and a friend would each be holding an empty can, connected by a string stretched out tightly. You could speak to one another, with the string carrying the sound waves from one end to the other. Well, telecommunications have come a long way since childhood. Replacing the strings are glass cables (fibre optics) that transmit light along their length as the information carriers. In this digital age, scientists are now looking at ways to use quantum communication to make information more compact and secure than ever before by sending fibre optic signals as single particles (photons) of light.
Aephraim Steinberg, professor of physics at the Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control at the University of Toronto, explains that by manipulating individual photons, we are unlocking ways to communicate and store information in new ways.
“All of the different answers you think are conceivable can in some sense be a part of the bigger reality out there at the same time. It makes the world a much more complicated but also a much more exciting place, if you learn how to describe the simultaneous possibilities,” says Steinberg.
By expanding beyond the classical binary method of storing computing information as 0s and 1s, quantum computing can store more information in less space, opening up new methods for compressing and encrypting information. Scientists are now going beyond basic information storage and transmission to make information interact, such as in calculations.
″It’s an amazingly exciting time to be working in quantum mechanics, both technologically and conceptually,” adds Steinberg.
“We are at the cusp of all sorts of new and exciting things: techniques that allow us to manipulate individual quantum particles; to trap individual ions and control what they are doing; or look at individual photons, store it inside a cavity.”
This understanding is pushing the limits of what is possible in tomorrow’s technology.
“We’re trying to figure out how to push the boundaries of technologies that let us really harness quantum phenomena both for applications and just for a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics itself,” says Steinberg.
“People have come up with ideas about how these new phenomena can be used to make more powerful computers, more secret communications systems, and many other technologies we are only beginning to envision.”