Many experts believe that the use of quantum optics, where individual particles of light are used to represent information, may hold the key for creating the next generation of communication and computing systems. Unlike conventional bits used in today's computers, quantum bits (qubits) have the unique property that allows them to have multiple values at the same time. This greatly enhances the functionality of quantum computing as compared to traditional microelectronic technology.
A team of engineers from RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering is attempting to enhance quantum optic technology by building the first active quantum optic devices on traditional silicon chips. The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, has the potential to greatly increase the functionality of quantum communication and information processing systems.
"Quantum optics deals with the manipulation of light at the particle level and the use of these particles, known as photons, to create capabilities that are not possible using the electrons in computer chips today," explains Dr. Stefan Preble, assistant professor of microsystems engineering at RIT and leader of the research team.
Preble notes that, historically, quantum optic devices have been implemented using large-scale and difficult to integrate bulk components, such as lenses and mirrors. However, to become commercially viable, quantum technologies will need to be miniaturized in order to dramatically improve reliability.
A functionality that will be required in future quantum information chips is a single photon wavelength converter. Typically hundreds of millions of light particles, using a tremendous amount of energy, are needed to change the wavelength of just a single photon. The research team will utilize a new method, developed by Preble, that can change a single photon's wavelength through the use of a low-power electric signal.
"Low-power wavelength conversion allows us to control the flow of photons on a chip," adds Preble. "This will enable high-performance quantum computers that will revolutionize how we process information in the future."