SMU Lands $1M for Quantum-related Cyber Research

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Dallas – Southern Methodist University’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security has received more than $1 million in new research grants for quantum-related research from Anametric, Inc., an Austin-based company developing new technologies and devices for chip-scale quantum photonics with a focus on cybersecurity.

SMU researchers Dr. Mitch Thornton and Dr. Duncan MacFarlane will use the grants to investigate new theoretical approaches to enhancing cybersecurity using quantum information and to leverage these approaches to build quantum photonic integrated circuits. The ICs are designed to control individual particles of light to generate high-quality entropy – a string of random numbers that serves as the foundation of modern cybersecurity. This work could pave the way for advances in quantum computing and other quantum-related applications.

“The long-term goal is to build quantum computing devices. But we have to take baby steps, and this first grant is focused on quantum-based cybersecurity devices,” Thornton said. “We will focus on circuits that support important cybersecurity applications for quantum data, including next-generation encryption, to protect quantum information as it is being transmitted over a network or processed in a quantum computer.”

Quantum-related technology exploits unique properties of quantum physics to enable complex tasks that would be impossible with today’s computers. Currently, computers rely on classical binary digits, which can be either a 0 or 1, to perform tasks that power our digital economy. But a quantum computer can use quantum bits, or qubits, that can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. That gives quantum computers the theoretical ability to radically outperform today’s computers for certain tasks.

There are a number of ways by which these qubits can be constructed. Yet individual particles of lights, or photons, are one of the few types of quantum bits that can operate at room temperature. This is significant because photonic technology could potentially be used to construct quantum devices that can operate in an office space, rather than in a laboratory.

However, photons are notoriously hard to control. With Thornton and MacFarlane’s help, Anametric is trying to build quantum photonic integrated circuits with the functionalities required to create, process and detect single photons – all in an exquisitely small package.

“The trick is to find a commercially viable operating space within the current limits of photonic technology,” MacFarlane said. “Our partners at Anametric have been instrumental in defining where to seek that overlap.”

Thornton and MacFarlane bring a combined expertise of more than 40 years in quantum information theory and quantum photonic integrated circuit design.

Thornton is the Cecil H. Green Chair of Engineering and executive director of the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security. MacFarlane is the Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship, associate dean for SMU’s Engineering Entrepreneurship and executive editor for SMU’s Hart Institute for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.