The quantum internet | The Big Idea

Imagine an even better version of the internet — one that's more secure and can transfer larger amounts of information.

Dr. Eden Figueroa, associate professor of physics at Stony Brook University and joint appointee at Brookhaven National Laboratory, successfully developed a working long-distance quantum network. It's the foundation for the nation's quantum internet infrastructure and what could one day become an unhackable internet.

"If we develop it and then we can build it, many things will be more secure and that would impact everybody from the banks to the governments, even your transactions you do with your credit card," he said. "Let's define quantum as a set of technologies that are based on quantum principles and then having engineer systems that we can control with particles that now have new properties we force them to do what we want, in this case, exchange or process information in a very distinctive manner."

The current internet works by sending lights into fibers, which are blue wires. Lasers and pulses encode information with zeroes and ones. But instead of working with millions of particles or photons, this new version would work with one at a time in order to monitor whether it's been hacked.

"If you lose your photon, you will realize it because it's easy to check on if someone is eavesdropping on the information you're transmitting," Figueroa said. 

Figueroa works with a team out of the quantum information technology lab. The equipment costs several million dollars but the possibilities are potentially priceless.

Researchers work in partnership with Brookhaven National Lab, or BNL. Just a few months ago, they were able to successfully transmit photons from Stony Brook to BNL.

This signal is a live quantum connection or real-time measurements of individual photons, or particles of light, traveling from Stony Brook to Brookhaven National Laboratory — a distance of 80 miles in a matter of microseconds.

"All of our photon transmissions are done on these conventional fiber-optic links," Paul Stankus, a senior scientist at BNL, said. "This comes from Stony Brook and arrives here, we pull off these two signals, send them around and they come into this detector which is sensitive to the infrared single photons. Its signals are captured and processed here and then sent over to the computer for display."

Other nations are working on their version of the quantum internet, and it is a race to finish first. 

Figueroa and his team are putting in the time and effort. While we're still a few decades away from what can become a more efficient new normal, understanding how this research works brings us one step closer.

"This is just the beginning, there are so many things to come and this is what makes it so exciting," Figueroa said.

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