The Quantum Leap From Lab To Life

There’s no need to look far into the future—quantum technologies are already bringing exciting solutions to Asia, in diverse areas such as communications and biomedicine.

AsianScientist (Sep. 27, 2021) – In early 2021, China became home to the world’s first integrated quantum communications network, offering unhackable data transmission over a whopping 4,600 kilometers. This remarkable achievement is the latest in a series of quantum milestones.

In 2016, the country also launched the first-ever quantum communications satellite and established the longest terrestrial quantum network between Beijing and Shanghai the following year.

The mastermind behind these incredible world records? Professor Pan Jianwei, a quantum physicist from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) already dubbed locally as the ‘Father of Quantum.’ Across the region, a growing pool of scientists are joining him in opening Asia’s door to quantum technology.

Take Dr. Alexander Ling, head of Singapore’s Quantum Engineering Programme, who is testing quantum nanosatellites as a cost-effective means to build secure, speedy communications networks.

Meanwhile, Raman Research Institute Professor Urbasi Sinha, founder of one of India’s initial quantum labs, recently led the nation’s first successful experiment for transferring quantum-encrypted data through the atmospheric space between buildings.

But for all the buzz surrounding quantum, what exactly is it and what does it bring to the table? We look into why researchers and industry leaders are eager to tap into quantum’s potential and take the emerging tech from the lab and into our everyday lives.

Demystifying quantum fundamentals

At the very core of quantum technologies are qubits, otherwise known as the basic unit of quantum information. Unlike traditional computers’ bits, which have binary states of zero or one, a qubit can exist as multiple states simultaneously, similar to a coin with its heads and tails seemingly blending together as it spins. Just as one face of the coin appears as it lands, a qubit only settles on one state once it is measured.

Akin to being linked by an invisible thread, the state of one qubit at one location can also mirror the characteristics of another qubit far away. Called entanglement, this ‘spooky’ phenomenon as described by Albert Einstein lets scientists monitor and manipulate separate materials at once.

Imagine an ultra long-distance television remote control or a more efficient Google Home system feeding insights from afar, even without directly seeing the other half of the pair.

As more qubits become intertwined, the number of possible states also increases exponentially, allowing several calculations to be performed in parallel, at speeds far faster than conventional computers. But they’re also highly volatile, requiring concerted efforts to prevent them from collapsing and producing error-prone systems.

With these bizarre properties and unconventional features, how quantum works may seem like magic. While the intricacies of quantum principles are still being explored, scientists in the region are already changing the landscape one qubit at a time. From better health outcomes to sustainable energy usage, a quantum-powered future is within arm’s reach for Asia.

Erinne Ong reports on basic scientific discoveries and impact-oriented applications, ranging from biomedicine to artificial intelligence. She graduated with a degree in Biology from De La Salle University, Philippines.

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