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ORNL scientists bring research expertise to quantum internet workshop

ORNL’s Nicholas Peters led a breakout session on quantum networking hardware. Credit: photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

During the Quantum Internet Blueprint Workshop, nearly 80 experts representing Department of Energy national laboratories, other government agencies, universities and industry partners addressed opportunities and obstacles facing the development of a secure, nationwide quantum internet powered by the unique properties of quantum mechanics.

The workshop took place February 5–6 at the State University of New York Global Center in New York City, and attendees included Barbara Helland, associate director of DOE’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, and Harriet Kung, associate director of science for DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences program.

Although classical computers rely on “bits” that have a value of either 0 or 1, quantum computers use quantum bits, or “qubits,” that can be encoded with values of 0, 1 or any combination of those two states. This distinction allows quantum processors to efficiently handle quantum information that can be transferred from system to system through quantum networks.

Two qubits together can have a well-defined state not present in each individual qubit because of a property called entanglement. This property results in strong quantum correlations between qubits regardless of the physical distance between them, a critical capability for realizing quantum networks. By integrating quantum communication networks and harnessing the power of entanglement, researchers aim to build a cohesive, reliable, secure framework for sharing quantum information—a quantum internet.

Joseph Lukens, Nicholas Peters, Bing Qi and Nageswara Rao of DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory joined other attendees to identify research and engineering steps needed to chart a path toward this goal. Following an introductory address from DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar, speakers covered topics ranging from national and international quantum networking efforts to potential quantum networking applications and the architectural components of a quantum internet.

Peters, who leads ORNL’s Quantum Information Science group and has been working in the field since 2001, served as workshop cochair and led a breakout session on quantum networking hardware. In this session, he first outlined existing technologies that show promise but are not yet mature enough to build quantum networks on a national scale. Then, Peters led a discussion surrounding the major engineering problems that must be solved to make these technologies compatible with quantum approaches.

The session attendees identified many research areas in need of additional attention, including quantum memory and materials science, and then developed an illustrative example of a roadmap for the next 15 years, with deadlines for key steps to make the quantum internet a reality.

To conclude the workshop, participants from all the sessions discussed relevant experiments and milestones, determined the resources needed to move forward, considered the effects their work could have on classical networking and developed a comprehensive timeline for future quantum endeavors.

“Although it took decades to fully develop, the internet has fundamentally changed humanity in a way no one could have predicted,” Peters said. “Perhaps a quantum internet will do the same. Finding out will require a lot of hard work and innovation.”

The workshop was sponsored by DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

UT-Battelle LLC manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit—Elizabeth Rosenthal