Launch of the quantum communication research network


As digitization continues to advance, it becomes increasingly important to find ways to increase the security of the exchange of sensitive information. One of the main methods proposed to achieve this is a communication network that operates on the basis of the laws of quantum physics. This would ensure that undetected eavesdropping is made impossible. The development of such a system is the goal of the joint research project QuantumRepeater.Link (QR.X). The project is to receive total funding of around 35 million euros from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) over the next three years. The project is coordinated by Professor Christoph Becher from the University of Saarland. The Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz (JGU) is participating in the collaboration by contributing to a sub-project.

Providing quantum communication over longer distances using fiber optic networks

The ever-increasing computing power and the prospect of the availability of quantum computers mean that current encryption techniques could become vulnerable. Assuming a quantum computer was specifically programmed to crack code, it could easily snoop around ordinary computers using standard protocols. However, if the encryption keys are exchanged in the form of light particles, called photons, the laws of physics ensure that any hacking attempt would be discovered. “If quantum communication is to become a viable future technology, we need to ensure that it also works reliably over long-distance fiber optic networks spanning larger areas,” said Professor Christoph Becher, Professor of Experimental Physics. and head of the quantum optics group at the Saarland. University.

Becher coordinates an association of 43 partners from scientific and industrial fields on one of the biggest technological challenges, namely the development of quantum repeaters and their integration into existing fiber optic networks. The inevitable limitations of links mean that quantum communication is currently limited to distances of a few hundred kilometers. It is not possible to overcome these limitations by means of signal amplification as is the case with conventional communication methods by optical fiber. Instead, quantum repeaters will allow communication over longer distances by breaking down information into smaller, linked chunks using quantum processes.

Field tests outside the intended protected laboratory environment

The QuantumRepeater.Link network is based on the Q.Link.X project, in which researchers were able to produce important building blocks for quantum repeaters. In the new project, these components are to be optimized and integrated into fiber optic test networks outside of protected laboratory environments. The main objective is to demonstrate that an elementary quantum repeater system can operate successfully over distances of up to 100 kilometers. Various promising approaches based on the use of a range of suitable materials will be tested and developed as appropriate. The network hopes to overcome technological hurdles and make mass production of quantum repeaters a viable option for the future. The research network was officially launched on August 1, 2021.

The research network consists of 43 partners from university research institutes, commercial institutes as well as various companies, including Deutsche Telekom. Collaboration with business partners and an external advisory board will assess the results in terms of feasibility. The consortium’s achievements are to be perpetuated through the filing of patents and the targeted support of spin-offs.

The JGU sub-project concerns theoretical modeling and experiments

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz will examine quantum communication from an experimental and theoretical point of view. “Our experiments will focus on a specific potential platform, namely the so-called crystallographic defects of diamond,” explained Professor Peter van Loock and Professor Ferdinand Schmidt-Kaler of the JGU Institute of Physics. Peter van Loock leads the JGU subproject and is responsible for theoretical research, while Ferdinand Schmidt-Kaler is responsible for experimental aspects. The silicon-vacant diamond-colored centers that will be the subject of experimentation are characterized by narrow-band light emission which is to be used for the spatial distribution of the entangled states of quantum mechanics by means of emission and single photon detection. In addition to color centers, atoms, ions and semiconductor systems will also be studied under the joint project for their relevance to the functioning of quantum repeaters. JGU’s theoretical project will play a leading role in the theoretical modeling of all experimental quantum repeater platforms. However, new theoretical concepts involving the hybridization of various hardware platforms or incorporating quantum error correction methods into repeater protocols will also be explored.

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