Quantum light has a bright future which can be seen in the progressive application of light at the Structured Light Laboratory at the University of Wits. It redefines the future of data connectivity and increases manufacturing efficiency while opening up new scientific diagnostic tools in healthcare, among other industries.
The Wits Structured Light Lab is first and foremost a photonics lab that has chosen to work in application in the field of communications, as it seeks to solve real world communication needs.
It’s a lab for change makers with laser focus – literally – like here, distinguished professor Andrew Forbes and his team of students at the Wits School of Physics discover, translate and innovate using models of light. Forbes is the youngest recipient of the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) Gold Medal.
Higher level potential of photonics
Photonics enables the next quantum leap for the world, says Forbes. âWe are entering the ‘century of the photon’ with implications for a better future. In the last century, it was about controlling electrons, giving birth to microelectronics (Silicon Valley, etc.) but today we focus on controlling light. Photonics control this light, so we regularly see photonics replacing electronics.
The dream is to create a âSilicon Valleyâ for quantum photonics here in South Africa. He explains that while quantum mechanics is a theory that has been around for over a century and has given rise to disruptive technologies such as laser and transistor, recent advancements in quantum state engineering have given hope for ‘a’ second quantum revolution. âTo realize new technologies.
These next-level technologies include improved medical imaging, efficient light collecting materials (clean energy), secure optical communication networks, exponentially faster computers (cybersecurity), and more precise measurement systems (metrology).
Rely on the science of structured light
The laboratory’s team of scientists broke a catalytic barrier in 2016 when they discovered “ways to increase the bandwidth of communication systems.” At that time, Wits and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) “demonstrated that more than 100 patterns of light in an optical communications link could potentially increase the bandwidth of communications systems by a factor of 100”.
Not stopping at a factor of 100, the team then polled the next level taking it to a factor of 1000. With a vision to see new frontiers in communications, Forbes explains, âWe want to accelerate the channels. Communication. If you can run 1000 models in the channel and each model has the same capacity as the current communication system, then you have instantly increased the bandwidth by 1000. “
Not satisfied with speed alone, Wits brought in the toolbox of quantum light (how to control single photons) and entangled states. âBy bringing the two together, we can make communication systems not only fast using many models, but also fundamentally secure by integrating the quantum toolkit. “
New secret of secure information
Everything being cyber and online, it is necessary to secure commitments and transactions. Forbes confirms the role of quantum physics in this equation, saying, âIt is imperative to know that no one can break a security code. The final piece of this puzzle is to use the quantum aspects of light to fundamentally secure information. We use the laws of physics to secure data so that someone has to break the laws of nature to break the code. “
Wits made a bold contribution to this space this year by developing a new quantum approach to sharing a secret between many parties, setting a new record for the highest dimensions and parties.
âWhen you think of networks, you think of many connections, many parties who want to share information and not just two. Now we know how to do this quantum, âhe says. The result here is an example of the team pushing the state of the art and bringing quantum communications closer to the actual implementation of the network.
Progressive Postgraduate Degrees in Quantum Technology
Quantum Technology is a new growing industry for South Africa, Africa and the world. Wits University has taken its first steps to empower the industry through an initiative known as WitsQ.
The initiative, according to Forbes, will strategically promote and advance quantum technology, bringing together stakeholders actively involved in this specialized field and those who wish to engage in quantum-related activities.
WitsQ focuses on research, innovation, business, education, awareness and ethics of quantum technologies, creating a collaborative forum that includes science, engineering, social / humanities, health and business. It will also help train the next generation of scientists and researchers.
One of the ultimate goals of the Wits Structured Light Laboratory is to innovate, creating new industries and businesses. We are not ‘training students’ but rather building a quantum ‘work force’ for South Africa, âsays Forbes. It requires a focus that gives students a high-tech environment in which to generate their new ideas and translate them into devices, and then a business model from which they are able to bring that pipeline of devices to market – a balance that will be searched via WitsQ.
âWe need to try to maximize the impact, make a lasting impression on our field and translate that into new savings for the country. Hope is a critical business and economic impact for generations to come, and an impact through which we see a shining new spectrum of light coming, âconcludes Forbes.