Call it the quantum Garden of Eden. Fifty or so miles east of New York City, on the campus of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Eden Figueroa, an associate professor at Stony Brook University, is one of the world’s pioneering gardeners planting the seeds of a quantum internet. Capable of sending enormous amounts of data over vast distances, it would work not just faster than the current internet but faster than the speed of light — instantaneously, in fact, like the teleportation of Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk in Star Trek.
Already, Figueroa says his group has transmitted what he called “polarization states” between the Stony Brook and Brookhaven campuses using fiber infrastructure, adding up to 85 miles. Kerstin Kleese van Dam, director of Brookhaven Lab’s Computational Science Initiative, says it is “one of the largest quantum networks in the world, and the longest in the United States.”
Next, Figueroa hopes to teleport his quantum-based messages through the air, across Long Island Sound, to Yale University in Connecticut. Then he wants to go 50 miles east, using existing fiber-optic cables to connect with Long Island and Manhattan.
David Awschalom, a legend in the field who is a professor of spintronics and quantum information at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, calls Figueroa’s work “a fantastic project being done very thoughtfully and very well. I’m always cautious about saying something is the biggest or fastest,” he says. “It’s a worldwide effort right now in building prototype quantum networks as the next step toward building a quantum internet.” Other efforts to build quantum networks, he says, are underway in Japan, the U.K., the Netherlands and China — not to mention his own group’s project in Chicago.