Advancing cybersecurity: Ohio's leap into long-distance quantum networks


A team at The Ohio State University earned a $750,000 grant from the Ohio Department of High Education Third Frontier Research Incentive Program to create long distance quantum networks and advance cybersecurity across the state.

Led by Ohio State Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Ronald M. Reano, the project aims to develop technologies that enable quantum key distribution (QKD) statewide, revolutionizing how secure communication is established over long distances.

The results could mean cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati can communicate securely, positioning Ohio as a pioneer in quantum network development.

QKD allows remote parties to establish secure keys for encryption, impenetrable to eavesdropping. Due to the transmission loss of optical fiber, however, the transmission distance and rate of key distribution is fundamentally limited.

Reano said the team proposes to distribute quantum keys at distances up to 240 kilometers (approximately 150 miles), enabling interconnection between Columbus and all major Ohio cities.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to investigate engineering solutions to address major cybersecurity challenges involving fiber optic networks that utilize quantum technologies,” Reano said.

The project’s innovation lies in a technique called measurement-device-independent quantum key distribution (MDI-QKD). In MDI-QKD, according to Reano, a third party (referred to as Charlie) is introduced into the network in between the initial two remote communication parties (referred to as Alice and Bob). When Charlie is placed right in the middle of Alice and Bob, the individual transmission loss is reduced by one-half, which doubles the network distance. Instead of Alice transmitting quantum signals directly to Bob, both Alice and Bob transmit directly to Charlie who uses quantum interference to distill quantum secure keys to Alice and Bob.

Reano said the heart of the MDI-QKD system is Charlie, composed of four critical superconducting nanowire single photon detectors, fiber optic communications components, and electronics.

The project will undergo rigorous testing, starting with controlled laboratory experiments and progressing to field demonstrations using real world in-ground optical fiber infrastructure managed by OARnet and the Ohio State Office of Technology and Digital Innovation.

Reano said the ultimate goal is to connect major Ohio institutions, including universities, the Air Force Institute of Technology, the NASA Glenn Research Center, and the Cleveland Clinic’s quantum computer.

The project team also will engage and educate senior leaders in Ohio industry, business and commerce to build awareness in quantum information science and engineering.

Beyond its immediate goals, the project lays the foundation for future advancements. The experimental hardware developed will serve as a research platform accessible to academic, industrial, and government researchers throughout the state of Ohio. The infrastructure will be managed by Ohio State’s Center for Quantum Information Science and Engineering. Co-PI Professor Ezekiel Johnston-Halperin and Research Associate Wendson de Sa Barbosa from the Department of Physics round out the well-balanced science, engineering and technology team.

by College of Engineering and Dept. of Electrical & Computer Engineering communications staff

Category: Faculty