Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh announced on January 22, 2024, a fundamental discovery in the field of quantum networks.

Professor Cristian Bonato, co-head of Heriot-Watt’s Quantum Photonics Laboratory, collaborated with colleagues from across Europe on the breakthrough.

Currently, quantum networks rely on expensive lasers and additional equipment to make single atoms “talk” to each other using light – a prerequisite for quantum communication to work, ensuring that all communication remains secure.

The Edinburgh team has developed a new semiconductor system with individual atoms that all emit light at the same frequency, removing the need for additional equipment and significantly reducing costs.

Professor Cristian Bonato said, “Semiconductors are very appealing for quantum communications. They use chips similar to those we find in mobile phones and computers, which means we already have the manufacturing capability in place.”

To make the atoms emit light at the same frequency, and thus make them talk to each other, Bonato’s team decided to add vanadium atoms to the semiconductor. Vanadium emits light at a frequency compatible with standard telecommunications fiber-optic networks.

Bonato said: “Each vanadium atom acts like a tiny antenna, which emits light at a given frequency.”

“This antenna can be perturbed when heavier atoms are sitting nearby.”

“We solved this problem by growing our semiconductor using identical silicon and carbon atoms.”

Silicon carbide is widely used in the electric vehicle industry, so there was another huge investment savings compared to using a new material.

Bonato finally said: “Data is the new currency and we need quantum networks to keep it secure. Our breakthrough will help accelerate the adoption of quantum networks and increase the security of our communications.”

The research was funded by the European Commission and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The discovery is reported in Nature Communications.

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