Juan Yin (center), professor at University of Science and Technology of China, receives the award of the Newcomb Cleveland Prize on behalf of the research team in Washington.(Image by CCTV)
A team of 34 physicists based at various institutions in China will receive the 2018 Newcomb Cleveland Prize, presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), for research that could provide the basis of a next-generation internet.
The Newcomb Cleveland Prize, AAAS’ oldest award, has honored the most impactful research paper published in Science each year since 1923. This year’s winning paper, ‘Satellite-based entanglement distribution over 1200 kilometers,’ describes an exponential increase in the distance at which particles can remain in a state called quantum entanglement. The findings from the study help lay the groundwork for ultra-secure communication networks of the future.
Physicists sync the properties of multiple particles, such as photons or electrons, to achieve quantum entanglement. Entanglement allows observers to determine the state of a given particle, such as its polarization, by measuring the state of another particle to which it is linked. Long distance entanglement could allow the development of an unbreachable messaging encryption system.
In June 16, 2017, a team of scientists led by Professor Pan Jian-Wei, physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China, proved the viability of a new technique that minimizes particle degradation, allowing quantum entanglement to be maintained over longer distances. They then used a satellite to send photon pairs through the near-vacuum of space, successfully measuring the quantum keys at Tibetan receiving stations 1,203 kilometers apart. The research shows that a network of satellites could one day form the infrastructure of a quantum internet.
“Secure communication is of crucial importance in the modern world,” said Profesor Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of Science and chair of the Newcomb Cleveland Prize Selection Committee. “In principle, methods based on the phenomenon of quantum entanglement—about which Einstein was very skeptical, referring to it as ‘spooky action at a distance’—represent solutions to the problem of perfectly secure communication.”
“However, many challenges remain in converting these ‘in principle’ methods into practice,” Berg added. “The Newcomb Cleveland Prize winning paper presents a substantial step in addressing these challenges, demonstrating quantum communication over very long distances.”
The authors of the winning paper will receive the award during the 185th AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington DC on February 14, 2019.