memq is developing an integrated quantum photonics platform that will enable quantum communication between computers over distances, orders of magnitude greater than is available today, according to a startup from the University of Chicago, which was recently selected for the George Schultz Innovation Foundation Award.
Led by Manish Kumar Singh, Ph.D., the memq team includes Sean Sullivan, a researcher at the Argonne National Laboratory, and Opposite Guha, a professor of Pritzker Molecular Engineering and a senior adviser to the Argon Directorate of Physical Science and Technology.
“Quantum system on a chip”, the startup platform will not completely hack communication protocols at distances covering 1000 kilometers, using devices called quantum repeaters. “We want to include all the components of a quantum system on one chip,” Singh explained. “That’s where the real power of the platform is: instead of trying to connect 20 different components, we can combine it all on one chip.”
The platform is also compatible with existing telecommunications infrastructures, in addition to being “perfectly compatible,” Singh explained, meaning the material could flow to an existing semiconductor plant and use existing nanoproduction technologies.
Singh, who this month defended his dissertation at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering to earn a doctorate in quantum science and technology, is also a chemical engineer with experience in the semiconductor industry. This experience gave him an understanding of scaling the technology and bringing it to market – the knowledge he applied to memq.
“Experience in the industry has made me look for opportunities,” Singh said. “This problem of conducting research and creating a product that is useful to consumers was demystified, which became useful later.”
When he came to the university to begin his doctorate, Singh began looking for silicon-compatible solid hosts that could be used to host potential qubits, or quantum bits, the main information block in a quantum computer.
“We had dead ends, but it just meant we needed to explore more,” Singh said. Eventually the team found a combination of materials that were very compatible with silicon, he explained: “It seemed to me that could be all.”
To explore the potential for creating something commercially viable, Singh turned to his advisor and contacted Sullivan, who contributed to the effort to create a quantum bond that is used as a test stele for quantum communication technology.
«The next generation of information processing is already here, and all of these potential quantum technologies need to be able to communicate, ”Sullivan said. “When Manish approached me with the idea of doing some additional research, which we both worked on, and see if there was commercial potential, I was really given the fact that a lot of basic science has already been done; it was originally. Now we have an engineering task, ”he said.
As a first step, the duo participated in the Energy I-Corps program, which aims to help researchers test the commercial potential of their ideas. This led them to participate in Compass, a six-month accelerator program that gives participants access to world-class resources, including the business expertise of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and the Polish Center.
“The compass hastened the deadlines we had in mind. We went in without a business plan; we had the technology, but we had to find out what to do with it, ”Singh said. Sullivan added that the Compass program was incredibly valuable. “Our coaches helped us to prepare for the final of the Innovation Fund,” he said.
The goal is to advance the concept check to create a working prototype of the proposed device so far next year and increase the team to five with a set of capabilities that, according to Singh, will allow memq to start working on “different boundaries”.
Sullivan said: “We are on the verge of adopting these new quantum technologies and taking them out of basic science and bringing them into real engineering projects.”