The quantum future is bright: Dal research breakthrough spurs partnership with federal government

- April 10, 2023

Dr. Kimberley Hall uses an ultrafast laser in her lab. (Danny Abriel photo)
Dr. Kimberley Hall uses an ultrafast laser in her lab. (Danny Abriel photo)

A key piece of Canada’s National Quantum Strategy is set to be developed by researchers at Dalhousie University.

The Dalhousie Ultrafast Quantum Control Group, led by Dr. Kimberley Hall, recently signed a $500,000 agreement to collaborate with researchers at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) to develop solid state quantum emitters. Those are sources of single photons — the smallest quantum of energy in light — needed for use in quantum technology. This initiative will be funded through the NRC’s Quantum Sensors Challenge program.

“Dr. Hall’s cutting-edge research will allow Canada to be at the forefront of the quantum technology that is integral to our future,” says Dr. Chuck Macdonald, dean in the Faculty of Science. “This partnership with NRC is another excellent example of how Dalhousie’s researchers amplify their discoveries to have a greater impact in a field that will improve our world.”

“The NRC seeks out strong partners to complement the work done in our labs,” says Dr. Aimee K. Gunther, deputy director of the Quantum Sensors Challenge program. “Projects like this one allow researchers to share expertise, helping to position Canada as a world leader in the development of future quantum-based technologies.”

You’re likely reading this story on a computer or smartphone screen, which means billions of photons are carrying images of these words to your eyes. To take full advantage of quantum technology, scientists need to develop reliable tools that can beam out a single photon at a time.

While that has proven to be a challenge to scientists, a recent breakthrough at Dalhousie seems set to make Canada’s quantum future brighter. Dr. Hall and her team developed a process that helps improve the NRC’s current technology used to emit a single photon. It ensures the expected photon is emitted each time. 

“We’ve developed this technique that enables us to get the single photons out while also filtering out all of the scattered laser light,” explains Grant Wilbur, a PhD student in Dr. Hall’s group.

Recommended reading: Quantum leap: Partnerships power Dal spin‑out company QRA

Scaling new heights in medicine, finance and cybersecurity

Among the many uses for single-photon sources are the development of quantum sensors that have improved precision, sensitivity, and efficiency, which could enable giant leaps in applications related to electronics manufacturing, finance, and medicine.

Cybersecurity is another area where quantum technology could bring game-changing advances.

“Quantum computers, which are now being developed around the world, would be able to decode the encryption schemes that are used for nearly all information on the internet today,” Wilbur explains.

Securely encoding information for this quantum computing future — emails, instant messages, banking details and other sensitive information — would require new cryptographic methods based on measurements of the quantum states of single photons.

Single-photon sources can also be used in making quantum computers, such as the one being developed by Toronto-based Xanadu Quantum Technologies Inc. While not yet widely available for commercial purposes, quantum computers will be able to solve complex data problems beyond the capabilities of existing supercomputers and could be used in sectors such as health, transportation, finance and environmental modeling.

The emitters Dr. Hall’s group is developing are based on quantum dots, which are technologies that are about 20,000 times smaller than a grain of sand.

Read more about the research in this APL Photonics paper.


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