Managing light to carry computer
data, such as text, audio, and video, is possible today with laser light beams
that are guided along a fiber-optic cable. These waves consist of countless
billions of photons, which carry information down the fiber across continents.
A research team at the University of Alberta (U of A) wants to refine the
optical transmission of information by using a single photon.
Zubin Jacob, a U of A electrical
and computer engineering researcher, says that rather than spreading data over
waves of light, the goal is to use single particles of light, photons.
“Unfortunately, the efficient
generation of single photons for practical applications is a serious
engineering challenge,” says Jacob.
Jacob and his research team are
looking into metamaterials to tackle this problem. A metamaterial is a medium
that has designer nanostructures in it, giving it technical capabilities beyond
any materials we currently have. “The metamaterial would efficiently collect
single photons of light and allow their transmission,” says Jacob.
At other universities,
researchers are looking at attaching single photons to waves of electrons. The
electrons and photons combine to form a plasmon wave that can be transmitted on
a metal nanowire.
Jacob says the benefit of working
with single photons for transmitting computer data is the ability to encode
much more complex information on an individual particle of light. “A single
photon could carry encryption codes, which are far more complex than the
security password information we currently use to protect sensitive data.”
Jacob says that this technology
is at least 10 years away and the products are not aimed at general consumers. “This technology is destined for markets such as the military that requires
extremely high levels of data encryption.”
The development in this field of
research combining nanophotonics and quantum technologies was published in Science.