Science and Technology

Técnico will be part of the quantum internet of the future

The Physics of Information and Quantum Technologies Group of Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT) at Instituto Superior Técnico develops two projects supported by the initiative Quantum Technologies Flagship.

Quantum Internet is a technology based on the progress of science in what concerns subatomic particles, promising a safer cyber world where data theft will be very difficult or nearly impossible. Quantum internet also provides safer communications without the possibility of being hacked, quantum computing, help to build powerful telescopes and new methods to detect gravitational waves. The users look forward to all these achievements and the European Commission launched the initiative Quantum Technologies Flagship this year. Two projects developed by the Physics of Information and Quantum Technologies Group of Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT) were selected under this initiative.

“We were very pleased [with this news], because we knew it was an extremely competitive call, and because it means that we are part of Quantum Flagship,” says Yasser Omar, professor at Técnico and leader/founder of the Physics of Information and Quantum Technologies Group. The two projects will have a total funding of 13 million euros and were selected among 140 applications. “I think that our projects stood out because we had original ideas”. “Both the quantum internet project and the science project of quantum microwaves are based on very original ideas and approaches. And, of course, the excellence of the teams was also essential to our success”, he adds.

The first project, worth 10 million euros, is called the “Quantum Internet Alliance” and intends to build, in the next three years, the first prototype of the future quantum internet: a network that could allow private long distance communications , as well as quantum computing and quantum sensor systems. Técnico researchers established a partnership with researchers from the Technical University of Delft (The Netherlands), the Max-Planck-Institute for Quantum Optics in Munich (Germany), the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen (Denmark) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, among many other institutions. “This is the first time we have tried to build a quantum network that will serve any quantum application: secure communications, distributed computing, quantum sensor networks, etc. It is indeed a quantum internet never tried before”, says professor Yasser Omar, leader of the two Portuguese projects.

“Our contribution is made at the theoretical level, following the work we have been developing on the theory of quantum networks”.

The second project – the Quantum Microwave Communication and Sensing – with a budget of € 3 million is carried out in partnership with the Walther-Meissner-Institute in Munich, the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (France) and the British company Oxford Instruments, among other entities. This is a research project that will use superconducting circuits kept near absolute zero in order to generate entangled quantum microwaves. Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon that allows to obtain information from a system without communicating or interacting with it and whose study can lead to important applications such as quantum radars, which are much more sensitive than the current radars. “Once again the contribution of our Group is made at the theoretical level. Most of the partners are experimental physicists who work with superconducting circuits,” says the Técnico professor.

So, what can we expect from all this investment and work in the next few years? Professor Yasser Omar has a quick and clear answer: “It is important to know that quantum technologies are very incipient technologies, and that applications in everyday life will take some time”. “But on the other hand, big companies and governments are already buying communication and quantum computing systems”, he adds. These technologies have enormous potential for success and will change our society.

The participation in these two European projects will contribute to put Portugal at the forefront of this area. “After 15 years of working at Técnico and 12 years at IT it’s bearing fruit. IST and IT are the leaders of this area in Portugal”, says professor Yasser Omar.