In a coordinated national strategy to fund quantum-related research and education, the National Science Foundation has awarded two of eight nationwide RAISE-EQuIP grants to physicists Yuping Huang and Stefan Strauf at Stevens Institute of Technology for their proposed research on technologies that could become the safest and most secure information networks ever seen.
The RAISE-EQuIP grants are designed to propel advances in quantum communication, next-generation technologies that offer the promise of generating, processing and detecting individual or entangled photons - miniscule particles of light that can be encoded with information - with unparalleled efficiency and volume. The announcement coincides with the nation's 10-year federal plan to advance quantum science research and ensure continued leadership in the field.
"The United States is investing in Stevens' ideas in quantum communication, not only in faculty research but in Stevens' ability to teach the next generation of students," says Mo Dehghani, Vice Provost for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Stevens, whose visits with the program managers at NSF helped bolster Stevens' visibility in the field and underscore its commitment to research and training the nation's first crop of quantum engineers.
Huang, an assistant professor of physics who heads Stevens' Center for Quantum Science and Engineering, will focus on developing a scalable integrated chip that creates entangled photons that can safely transmit and carry an unprecedented amount of information across long distances even under challenging weather conditions. One cloud or disturbance in the air, Huang explains, can absorb or scatter an entangled photon traveling in free space, disconnecting the network.
In the past, quantum communication networks used large tables full of mirrors, lasers and other optical equipment to create entangled photons - and tune their information capacity. Huang, with co-investigator Michael Vasilyev at University of Texas at Arlington, now aims to build an efficient and robust integrated quantum system on a chip, which amounts to the size of a penny.
Huang tested a prototype of this platform at Stevens, where he built the first hybrid quantum network on a college campus, giving students first-hand experience to tinker with the technology. "We want to train the first generation of the quantum industry workforce at Stevens," says Huang. "That's something no one has done before."
Strauf, professor of physics and head of the Nanophotonics Lab at Stevens, is working with Liang Feng and Ritesh Agarwal at the University of Pennsylvania to build an integrated platform on a chip that can generate, process and detect so-called twisted single photons, on demand, to encode quantum information. These twisted photons have vortices, much like eddies in a stream of water, which carry angular momentum, thereby providing additional information encoding capabilities. Additional twist patterns create higher dimensional quantum states, which increases not only information capacity, but also the level of security against quantum hacking.
"Recent advances in on-chip generation of twisted photons with ring resonators as well as their detection based on novel two-dimensional materials has brought the research community to an inflection point in quantum science," says Strauf. "We are at the cusp of creating real scalable and cost-effective technologies that transform bulky laboratory experiments with twisted light into tiny and highly functional quantum photonic chips."
The RAISE-EQuIP grants provide $750,000 to each group over the next three years. Both teams plan to integrate undergraduate and graduate students into the research and will participate in educational outreach programs to facilitate interest in quantum information science in students from preschool through 12th grade. Both Huang and Strauf are faculty in the department of physics at Stevens' Schaefer School of Engineering & Science that has recently established a unique master's degree in quantum engineering that prepares students to launch a career in industries using quantum information science and quantum technology.