Aiming for a quantum leap

Quantum leapPhotonics researchers Ksenia Dolgaleva and Jeff Lundeen in Lundeen’s new laboratory in the Advanced Research Complex.

“Ottawa is one of the best places in the world to conduct research in photonics.”

– Ksenia Dolgaleva

Ksenia Dolgaleva’s journey in photonics research has taken her from Moscow State University to the universities of Rochester and Toronto and, most recently, to the University of Ottawa.

“Ottawa is one of the best places in the world to conduct research in photonics,” says Dolgaleva, an engineering professor who joined the University in 2013. Ottawa has been a hub of photonics research for decades, with the University of Ottawa playing a leading role and dozens of private companies currently involved.

The researcher says she was drawn to the University of Ottawa because of the opportunity to build a strong research group, thanks to the support of the University’s photonics program. She is pleased to work with physics professor Jeff Lundeen, another new hire, and Robert Boyd, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Quantum Nonlinear Optics. Boyd is an internationally recognized leader in photonics, nanophotonics and quantum optics who came to the University in 2010 from the University of Rochester to build a world-class research program at the interface of science and engineering.

Dolgaleva is a member of the photonics team that is moving into the University’s Advanced Research Complex. The facility, among the most advanced of its kind in the world, will give photonics researchers the ultimate sandbox in which to perform their work. Anti-static tiles will protect sensitive lasers and walls in matte black will prevent stray light from interfering with experiments. Anti-vibration floors will ensure that traffic, minor earthquakes and other rumblings will not affect results.

The new complex will be a boon to young scientists such as Dolgaleva and Lundeen, who says that having a laboratory of his own to do his research, coupled with the ability to head his own team, is one reason he is excited about working at the University.

“The University of Ottawa has put a lot of effort into developing photonics research,” says the physics professor, formerly of the National Research Council (NRC). At the NRC, Lundeen invented and demonstrated a method to directly observe the wave function of a particle — the quantum wave that describes the behaviour of subatomic systems — which was published in the journal Nature in 2011. In March 2014, he was named Canada Research Chair in Quantum Photonics.

 

Lundeen and Dolgaleva’s research aims — one focused on physics, the other on engineering — illustrate the value of collaboration between researchers. Both are interested in the science and engineering of photons, or single particles of light. Figuring out the behaviour of photons at a quantum scale is highly difficult, requiring cutting-edge research facilities, but the payoff is big.

“Scientists are not good at modelling quantum systems right now,” says Lundeen. What they need is a computer that actually runs on quantum mechanics. His team is working towards building such quantum computers that could, for example, create better drug molecules or help design stronger and lighter materials for manufacturing. Lundeen’s ultimate goal is to produce a computer inside which all of the information is carried on photons instead of conventional electronic signals currently used in computers.

Dolgaleva’s research has three thrusts. The first is to develop integrated photonic circuits to serve optical communication networks, which could lead to improvements in Internet bandwidth and speed, for example. The second is to examine the possibility of producing integrated optical circuits for quantum information, which can be used to securely encode and transmit data over networks. Dolgaleva is also interested in physics-based approaches to improving the optical properties of photonic materials and devices.

“Modern optical communication networks suffer from the fundamental limitations of electronic signal

processing due to the limited bandwidth,” she says, adding that improved forms of signal processing are needed to overcome those limitations. Her team will engineer new and enhanced optical devices, as well as tiny photonic structures, that could be used to speed up fibre-optic networks.

Both researchers note that it is difficult to make projections about where their research will lead them because the field of photonics is changing so quickly. That said, Lundeen says he hopes his research will lead to absolutely secure communications systems, a quantum computer, and to a better understanding of quantum mechanics itself. Dolgaleva’s research could speed up the transmission of information within those communications networks. It’s the type of interdisciplinary collaboration that the Advanced Research Complex was built to foster.

 

by Elizabeth Howell

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