Around the world, numerous teams are racing to create the first working quantum computers, which will take advantage of the unusual behaviour of matter at the atomic level, and may lead to machines many times more powerful than anything available today.
Researcher, Dr Jacq Romero, has been working with quantum principles for more than a decade. A recent winner of a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship, her work at the University of Queensland in Australia focuses on the principles of quantum information, and specifically those of photons. This has led her into the study of the shape of light itself.
Dr Romero says that while we might be familiar with the shape of light emerging from a laser as a circular blob, that is not the only possibility.
“Actually light can be more interesting than that, and have many other shapes,” Dr Romero says. “That means you can encode more information in one photon, in contrast to what we have right now, which is zeros and ones.
“And because quantum information is inherently more secure than classical information, you can have high information capacity with unbeatable security.”
Dr Romero’s work is part of a global effort to make use of the uniqueness of quantum information for future technologies, starting with understanding what information is like in the quantum realm.
“At some point we are going to hit a barrier, because the amount of data we are handling right now is unprecedented,” Dr Romero says. “Up till now we have attacked the problem by using classical properties of light more, such as colour and wavelengths and the time of arrival of different light pulse. In the future we will see more use of these higher dimensional properties, so that we can cope with the information capacity that we need.”
She says another advantage of the realm is its inherent security.
“The edge that you have with quantum information is really the security aspect, because you cannot copy quantum information,” Dr Romero says. “And the other thing with quantum information is you can detect whether there is an eavesdropper.”
While it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, in September the Chinese-designed Micius satellite was used to conduct a quantum-safe video conference between China and Austria.
This computing has also become a key focus for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which has invested in quantum research at the University of NSW.
And while it might be some time before we enter the realm of quantum marketing, there is no shortage of startups looking for practical applications of quantum principles for the storing, transmitting and securing of data today.
L’Oréal Australia’s communication director, Christine Burke, says the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program was established in 1998 to support and recognise women researchers, and to encourage more young women to enter the profession and progress with their careers.
“Science is crucial to tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues, and we need every talented mind available, be they men or women,” says Burke.