A subsidiary of Stony Brook University is building a test bed for a true quantum internet.
The company’s GothamQ project is a far cry from the on-screen “Quantumania” of Marvel’s latest Ant-Man and the Wasp adventure, but it could lead to a future where online communications are safe from hackers.
Unlike the current internet, where billions of pulsed photons (the basic unit of light) generate zeroes and ones to allow us to check our Instagram account or our fantasy football team, the quantum internet sends out one photon at a time carrying encoded information.
The spin-off company, Qunect Inc. , from research by Stony Brook University physics professor Eden Figueroa and a doctoral thesis in physics by Mehdi Namazi, the company’s co-founder and chief scientific officer.
In October, the company, now based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, announced that it had raised an $8.5 million round of venture capital led by Airbus Ventures, whose limited partners include the European planemaker.
Officials said the funding will be used to expand the company from 13 employees to 18 and to build a 21-mile quantum loop through Brooklyn and Queens and a second, smaller phase that will connect the NYU campuses.
The quantum ring will run on the same underground fiber-optic lines used for the traditional internet, but will use additional equipment developed by Qunnect to manage information encoded in individual photons.
Researchers hope to eventually create a quantum internet that can link ultrafast quantum computers, but the day when ordinary users can tap into such a system is likely many years – perhaps decades – in the future.
Connect CEO Noel L. Goddard compares the early iterations of the quantum internet to the birth of the classical internet, whose early protocols in the 1960s and 1970s were plodding along.
“They haven’t won any sprints,” she said. “This is more or less where the quantum internet is today.”
Still, Goddard said governments, defense companies, telecoms and financial services — potential early adopters — have a lot of interest because a feature of the technology instantly alerts users when their connection has been compromised, providing a new level of security.
It said that major banks, including Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo, have already hired quantum scientists, and Qunnect has shown its devices at US Air Force laboratories north of Rome, which is conducting its own research.
Quantum initiatives are also being pursued by companies such as Verizon, Alphabet, IBM, Northrop Grumman and chip maker Nvidia.
Qunnect’s previous funding rounds from the Long Island Angels, Empire State Development Company’s Accelerate NY Seed Fund, and others totaled $1.8 million. Prior to moving to Brooklyn, the company was based in the Stony Brook University Wireless Communications and Information Technology Center of Excellence.
Qunnect’s products include a specialized quantum memory that manages individual photons and a device that generates so-called “entangled” photons.
In creating the GothamQ loop, Goddard said, Qunnect is installing its hardware on a tough mix of underground optical fibers that are subject to urban vibrations and the vagaries of weather in the Northeast, which can affect quantum interactions.
“It’s a great test bed,” she said.
The Internet is entering the quantum realm
- Classical computers use strings of 1s and 0s to encode and transmit data, while quantum computers use the strange behavior of subatomic particles such as photons and electrons.
- Quantum systems can encode More information because photons and other subatomic particles can be both 1 and 0 at the same time, a phenomenon known to scientists as “superposition”.
- further enhance their capabilities To transmit information, photons can be split, yet they can share information instantly even though they are miles apart, a process known as “entanglement.”