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Canadians Solve Key Puzzle For Future of Encryption

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Jeongwan Jin and Chris Pugh of the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing install a telescope in a National Research Council aircraft.

Students at the University of Waterloos Institute for Quantum Computing have developed a system to transmit numerical keys that will unlock coded messages no future computer can hack.

Credit: National Research Council

By his own admission, Christopher Pugh is not one for thrill rides. Even a regular commercial flight can make him a bit queasy.

But on a moonlit night last September, Mr. Pugh found himself strapped into a Twin Otter with its side door removed so he could monitor a telescope that was pointed down toward the darkened rural landscape of Eastern Ontario in the hope it would capture particles of laser light called photons fired up at the plane.

Despite the noise and rushing wind, Mr. Pugh, a PhD student at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing, did not think to feel nervous on his own behalf.

“I was too scared for the equipment to work,” he said.

As it happens, it worked beautifully. Colleagues operating the laser from an airstrip near Smiths Falls, south of Ottawa, soon heard Mr. Pugh’s excited cry of “We have photons!” over an air-to-ground radio.

The success, reported in a scientific paper posted online on Tuesday, was a pivotal test for a system designed to transmit numerical keys that will unlock coded messages no future computer can hack.

It also means the group is ready to take on an even bolder challenge: putting the same system on a Canadian satellite so it can transmit secure information across long distances.


From The Globe and Mail
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