Heriot-Watt scientist awarded £2.5m to advance quantum communications

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Credit: Heriot-Watt University

A scientist at Heriot-Watt University has been awarded £2.5 million from the Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies programme.

Professor Mehul Malik is harnessing the properties of quantum entanglement to develop new quantum network technologies capable of delivering the most secure form of communication and making it almost impossible for cyber-criminals to access highly sensitive data in the future.

Key to its success is the ability to utilise what is known as quantum entanglement. This is when two particles, such as light photons, remain strongly connected over enormous distances. 

While this technology offers unconditional data security, it is notoriously susceptible to background interference, known as noise. This can include weather or signal loss in a communications network that jeopardise the security of a quantum network. 

To counter this, Professor Malik and his team are developing advanced methods to control the quantum structure of light in space and time.

Professor Malik explains: “My research aims to harness these high-dimensional properties of light to maximise the information capacity of a quantum network and simultaneously enable it to operate in a noisy, real-world environment.

“With support from project partners BT Group and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, my 10-year research programme is poised to take fundamental advances developed in my lab and translate them to technologies that will have a direct impact on our modern society.”

Professor Malik is one of only four academics in the UK to be recognised through the Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies programme to lead on developing emerging technologies with high potential to deliver economic and social benefits. 

Funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the scheme aims to identify global research visionaries and provide them with long-term support. Each £2,500,000 award covers employment and research costs, enabling researchers to focus on advancing their technology over a period of up to 10 years.

Giving his reaction to the award, Professor Malik said he was ‘incredibly honoured’ adding: “The sustained 10-year support provided by the Academy is an esteemed endorsement of my research programme on quantum technology.

“To be recognised in this way is a privilege but also underlines the enormous potential of the technology I am developing to benefit our society in the near future.

“We have made tremendous strides in fundamental quantum science in recent years and I am particularly excited about the opportunities offered by the Royal Academy of Engineering to help us translate this work into disruptive applications."

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “I am truly delighted that we are able to support these four outstanding engineers and visionary individuals who will champion these emerging technologies and the significant opportunities they offer to make the world a better place for everyone.

“The Academy places huge importance on supporting excellence in engineering and sometimes the key to engineers fulfilling their potential in tackling global challenges is the gift of time and continuity of support to bring the most disruptive and impactful ideas to fruition.”