Collaboration between quantum scientists and City of Calgary sets a distance record for teleporting a photon state over a fibre network
What if you could behave like the crew on the Starship Enterprise and teleport yourself home or anywhere else in the world? As a human, you’re probably not going to realize this any time soon; if you’re a photon, you might want to keep reading.
Through a collaboration between the University of Calgary, The City of Calgary and researchers in the United States, a group of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary have successfully demonstrated teleportation of a photon (an elementary particle of light) over a straight-line distance of six kilometres using The City of Calgary’s fibre optic cable infrastructure. The project began with an Urban Alliance seed grant in 2014.
This accomplishment, which set a new record for distance of transferring a quantum state by teleportation, has landed the researchers a spot in the prestigious Nature Photonics scientific journal. The finding was published back-to-back with a similar demonstration by a group of Chinese researchers. Read the article, “Quantum Teleportation Across a Metropolitan Fiber Network.”
“Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect,” says Tittel.
Experiment draws on ‘spooky action at a distance’
The experiment is based on the entanglement property of quantum mechanics, also known as “spooky action at a distance” — a property so mysterious that not even Einstein could come to terms with it.
“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” explains Tittel. “When one of the photons was sent over to City Hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary.”
Next, the photon whose state was teleported to the university was generated in a third location in Calgary and then also travelled to City Hall where it met the photon that was part of the entangled pair.
“What happened is the disembodied transfer of the photon’s quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres away at the university,” says Tittel.
City’s accessible dark fibre makes research possible
The research could not be possible without access to the proper technology. One of the critical pieces of infrastructure that support quantum networking is accessible dark fibre. Dark fibre, so named because of its composition — a single optical cable with no electronics or network equipment on the alignment — doesn’t interfere with quantum technology.
The City of Calgary is building and provisioning dark fibre to enable next-generation municipal services today and for the future.
“By opening The City’s dark fibre infrastructure to the private and public sector, non-profit companies, and academia, we help enable the development of projects like quantum encryption and create opportunities for further research, innovation and economic growth in Calgary,” said Tyler Andruschak, project manager with Innovation and Collaboration at The City of Calgary.
“The university receives secure access to a small portion of our fibre optic infrastructure and The City may benefit in the future by leveraging the secure encryption keys generated out of the lab’s research to protect our critical infrastructure,” said Andruschak. In order to deliver next-generation services to Calgarians, The City has been increasing its fibre optic footprint, connecting all City buildings, facilities and assets.
Timed to within one millionth of one millionth of a second
As if teleporting a photon wasn’t challenging enough, Tittel and his team encountered a number of other roadblocks along the way.
Due to changes in the outdoor temperature, the transmission time of photons from their creation point to City Hall varied over the course of a day — the time it took the researchers to gather sufficient data to support their claim. This change meant that the two photons would not meet at City Hall.
“The challenge was to keep the photons’ arrival time synchronized to within 10 pico-seconds,” says Tittel. “That is one trillionth, or one millionth of one millionth of a second.”
Secondly, parts of their lab had to be moved to two locations in the city, which as Tittel explains was particularly tricky for the measurement station at City Hall which included state-of-the-art superconducting single-photon detectors developed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Since these detectors only work at temperatures less than one degree above absolute zero the equipment also included a compact cryostat,” said Tittel.
Milestone towards a global quantum Internet
This demonstration is arguably one of the most striking manifestations of a puzzling prediction of quantum mechanics, but it also opens the path to building a future quantum internet, the long-term goal of the Tittel group.
Physicist Dirk Bouwmeester discovers a promising route for combined optical and solid state-based quantum information processing
Tiny units of matter and chemistry that they are, atoms constitute the entire universe. Some rare atoms can store quantum information, an important phenomenon for scientists in their ongoing quest for a quantum Internet.
New research from UC Santa Barbara scientists and their Dutch colleagues exploits a system that has the potential to transfer optical quantum information to a locally stored solid-state quantum format, a requirement of quantum communication. The team’s findings appear in the journal Nature Photonics.
“Our research aims at creating a quantum analog of current fiber optic technology in which light is used to transfer classical information — bits with values zero or one — between computers,” said author Dirk Bouwmeester, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Physics. “The rare earth atoms we’re studying can store the superpositions of zero and one used in quantum computation. In addition, the light by which we communicate with these atoms can also store quantum information.”
Atoms are each composed of a nucleus typically surrounded by inner shells full of electrons and often have a partially filled outer electron shell. The optical and chemical properties of the atoms are mainly determined by the electrons in the outer shell.
Rare earth atoms such as erbium and ytterbium have the opposite composition: a partially filled inner shell surrounded by filled outer shells. This special configuration is what enables these atoms to store quantum information.
However, the unique composition of rare earth atoms leads to electronic transitions so well shielded from the surrounding atoms that optical interactions are extremely weak. Even when implanted in a host material, these atoms maintain those shielded transitions, which in principle can be addressed optically in order to store and retrieve quantum information.
Bouwmeester collaborated with John Bowers, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and investigators at Leiden University in the Netherlands to strengthen these weak interactions by implanting ytterbium into ultra-high-quality optical storage rings on a silicon chip.
“The presence of the high-quality optical ring resonator — even if no light is injected — changes the fundamental optical properties of the embedded atoms, which leads to an order of magnitude increase in optical interaction strength with the ytterbium,” Bouwmeester said. “This increase, known as the Purcell effect, has an intricate dependence on the geometry of the optical light confinement.”
The team’s findings indicate that new samples currently under development at UCSB can enable optical communication to a single ytterbium atom inside optical circuits on a silicon chip, a phenomenon of significant interest for quantum information storage. The experiments also explore the way in which the Purcell effect enhances optical interaction with an ensemble of a few hundred rare earth atoms. The grouping itself has interesting collective properties that can also be explored for the storage of quantum information.
Key is an effect called a photon echo, the result of two distinct light pulses, the first of which causes atoms in ytterbium to become partially excited.
“The first light pulse creates a set of atoms we ‘talk’ to in a specific state and we call that state ‘in phase’ because all the atoms are created at the same time by this optical pulse,” Bouwmeester explained. “However, the individual atoms have slightly different frequencies because of residual coupling to neighboring atoms, which affects their time evolution and causes decoherence in the system.” Decoherence is the inability to keep track of how the system evolves in all its details.
“The trick is that the second light pulse changes the state of the system so that it evolves backwards, causing the atoms to return to the initial phase,” he continued. “This makes everything coherent and causes the atoms to collectively emit the light they absorbed from the first pulse.”
The strength of the photon echo contains important information about the fundamental properties of the ytterbium in the host material. “By analyzing the strength of these photon echoes, we are learning about the fundamental interactions of ytterbium with its surroundings,” Bouwmeester said. “Now we’re working on strengthening the Purcell effect by making the storage rings we use smaller and smaller.”
According to Bouwmeester, quantum computation needs to be compatible with optical communication for information to be shared and transmitted. “Our ultimate goal is to be able to communicate to a single ytterbium atom; then we can start transferring the quantum state of a single photon to a single ytterbium atom,” he added. “Coupling the quantum state of a photon to a quantum solid state is essential for the existence of a quantum Internet.”
Learn more: Rare Earth Atoms See the Light