Mikhail Lukin thinks that devices based on quantum science are at the same stage as radios were about 100 years ago. To catch up, the recently tenured professor of physics is stopping and storing light, making artificial atoms behave in new ways, and doing engineering with superconductivity. When quantum does overtake kilowatts, you can expect novel products like quantum transmitters and quantum computers that will change the world the way that radios and electronic computers have.
For the past five years, Lukin and his Harvard colleagues have stunned the world by stopping pulses of light, storing them, and manipulating them. These are the first steps toward making quantum computers whose information is contained in the physical or quantum state of light pulses rather than electrical pulses. He sees such quantum computing and communication as being at about the same stage as experiments in electricity when Guglielmo Marconi broadcast the first dots and dashes of Morse code through the air.
“We are still at the level of basic research, but practical applications may not be too far in the future,” says the 33-year-old Moscow native. “By manipulating single photons of light, we should be able to transmit information via codes that cannot be cracked by terrorists, commercial spies, or hackers – “q-mail instead of e-mail.”