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Institute puts U of C at forefront of ‘quantum information revolution’

January 21, 2005

The University of Calgary today joins a small, elite group of universities worldwide when it launches its Institute for Quantum Information Science, a research unit dedicated to exploring the mind-bending nexus between computer science and quantum physics.

There are currently fewer than 10 such institutes around the world dedicated to this new and growing interdisciplinary field, which is providing breakthroughs in information security and contributing to a whole new paradigm in computing.

“Quantum information science deals with information processing, information transmission and information security,” explains Dr. Barry Sanders, physicist and director of the new institute. “Although most of the developments to date relate to cryptography, the fact is that we don’t yet know the full potential of quantum information science. The important thing is that it promises to be revolutionary – and Calgary will be there from the beginning.”

The Institute for Quantum Information Science brings together U of C researchers from computer science, mathematics and physics, who will conduct theoretical and experimental research. The institute is expected to attract top students, significant research funding, and industrial partners. It will also provide an administrative framework enabling it to link with other quantum institutes, such as those at California Institute of Technology, Cambridge University in the UK, and the University of Waterloo in Canada, which is currently the only other Canadian university with an institute of this type.

“Quantum information science could eventually lead to the development of new materials, devices or other breakthroughs that no one has yet foreseen,” Sanders says. Most researchers agree, however, that the development of a ‘Quantum computer’, which would be capable of massive parallel processing on a single chip, is inevitable and anywhere from 10 to 20 years away.

“A quantum computer would be a nuclear bomb to the Internet,” Sanders says. “Right now our whole system of e-commerce is based on encryption methods that are too difficult for existing computing technology to attack. But a quantum computer could solve many of these mathematical problems that are currently impossible to crack, making the Internet insecure.”

On the other hand, scientists have also already demonstrated that quantum cryptography guarantees that data can be transmitted publicly with 100 per cent unbreakable encryption – forever. “Even if there is an alien invasion by some species that has incredibly advanced technology, our information can be secure – at least as long as the quantum laws of the universe hold up,” Sanders says.

Quantum information researchers investigate the mysterious nano-world where particles can behave in very non-Newtonian ways. For example, current computing is based on information being digitized and exchanged in a linear stream of 1’s and 0’s. “Any of the technological improvements in computing that we see today are all designed to allow us to send more ones and zeroes down a particular channel, to send them faster, or to be able to encrypt them so they’re secure,” Sanders says. But with quantum computing, the 1’s and 0’s – the inputs – can be created and processed simultaneously, meaning an exponential increase in processing speed.

Investors have already recognized the great potential in the field. Quantum-based computer security systems are being commercialized by companies such as BBN Technologies, D-Wave Systems, id Quantique, and MagiQ Technologies Inc. MagiQ’s founder and CEO, Bob Gelfond, was one of five high-profile speakers who took part in the new U of C institute’s official launch today.

Quantum information and cryptography is an institutional priority at the U of C and there is already a talented group of researchers working in the area. The talent base is growing, thanks to various federal, provincial, private sector and U of C initiatives.

Current faculty members who will be part of the Institute for Quantum Information Science include Dr. Richard Cleve (computer science), Dr. David Feder (physics and astronomy), Dr. Peter H°yer (computer science), Dr. Alex Lvovsky (physics and astronomy), Dr. Karl-Peter Marzlin (physics and astronomy), and Dr. John Watrous (computer science). Affiliated faculty members include Dr. David Hobill (physics and astronomy), Dr. Renate Scheidler (mathematics and statistics), Dr. Robert Thompson (physics and astronomy), and Dr. Hugh Williams (mathematics and statistics). Sanders, the director, is also iCORE Professor of Quantum Information Science.

Last spring, Sanders and his colleagues at the Australian National University captured international headlines when they demonstrated how to ‘teleport’ data using quantum physics. This experiment employed crystals, lenses and mirrors to produce a pair of ‘entangled’ laser beams that were then used to carry fragile information in the form of quantum states.

For more information on the institute, contact Dr. Barry Sanders, Director of the Institute for Quantum Information Science, at (403) 210-8462 or (cell) 560-8288, or Greg Harris, Media Relations, (403) 220-3506 or (cell) 540-7306.

For more details on the institute, visit: www.iqis.org.


Gregory Harris
Media Relations
External Relations
Administration Building, A113
University of Calgary
2500 University Drive N.W.
T2N 1N4
Phone (403) 220-3506
Cell (403) 540-7306
Fax (403) 282-8413