Boston/ Science, Tech & Medicine
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Published on May 28, 2024
Beantown Breakthrough: Harvard and Amazon's Quantum Leap Linking Boston and CambridgeSource: Unsplash/ NASA

Boston has just leaped into the future with a breakthrough in quantum networking, as Harvard scientists and Amazon Web Services push forward into the era of hyper-secure communication. According to the Harvard Gazette, University Professor Mikhail D. Lukin at the Harvard Quantum Science and Engineering Initiative and his team have hooked up the longest quantum network yet, connecting two quantum nodes between Boston and Cambridge through a 35-kilometer loop of fiber optics. This novel network successfully transmitted qubits, the fundamental building blocks of quantum information.

The achievement, marking a significant development in the field of quantum communication, is not without potential to transform, providing an ultra-secure method of transmitting data with applications ranging from national security to advancing astronomical research; this was explained by Can M. Knaut, a leading researcher in the project, as well as by Bart J. Machielse, an AWS research scientist who told the Harvard Gazette that they're showcasing a "wide variety of applications in this technology for long-distance communication, which is sort of long-distance ultra-secure communication, which is really what we were trying to prove out of here." With these advancements, the expectation is that, within a few years, this technology will not only be proven but also could be ready for a larger-scale demonstration.

Lukin's work, which spans nearly 25 years, is driven by the impending need to connect burgeoning quantum computers into a cohesive quantum internet, as he told the Harvard Gazette, stating that the project is "necessary and important" for the evolution of practical networking between these ultra-advanced machines. The project also involved collaboration with professors Marko Lončar from Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics, Chemistry Professor Hongkun Park, and was documented in a publication in Nature in May.

However, the path to this innovation was not smooth, as the real-world setting of Boston's bustling environment presented unique challenges by including noise from existing telecommunications infrastructure. Knaut mentioned the trial of this venture, saying, "We had to basically work with what we were given," and that the research team had to adapt their methodology, settling for optimizing the final output rather than controlling each variable, which is a stark contrast to lab conditions where one might control every aspect normally. In spite of the practical challenges that demanded precision up to the nanosecond, they've proved this system's viability in an urban landscape. According to Machielse, he remarked, "But really the novelty of this experiment is actually been stringing all of this together and showing that it works when you actually do this in the real world, because it wasn’t clear that would come together," as reported by the Harvard Gazette.

With the technology successfully demonstrated in Boston, the next steps involve refining the system and scaling up. As the network's capabilities are expanded, the dream of a quantum internet—a network that can deliver unprecedented security and computational synchronicity—is drawing closer to reality, promising to reshape the way we think about and handle communication and data in the internet age.

Boston-Science, Tech & Medicine