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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-07-25 11:05:36
  • Article ID: 678391

Qubitekk Licenses ORNL Single-Photon Source Approach for Quantum Encryption

  • Credit: Photo by Qubitekk

    An existing Qubitekk prototype will leverage ORNL’s single-photon source approach, bringing the device closer to generating pairs of quantum light particles in a controlled, deterministic manner that is useful for quantum encryption.

  • Credit: Genevieve Martin, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

    Duncan Earl, Qubitekk’s president and chief technology officer (seated, left) and Thomas Zacharia, ORNL laboratory director, participated in a signing ceremony at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with Eugene Cochran, ORNL commercialization manager (standing, left) and ORNL’s Joseph Lukens, Warren Grice and Nicholas Peters, inventors of the newly licensed single-photon source technology for quantum encryption applications.

  • Credit: Genevieve Martin, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

    Qubitekk’s Duncan Earl (left) signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement with ORNL Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia for ORNL’s invention that produces quantum light particles, known as photons, in a controlled, deterministic manner that promises improved speed and security when sharing encrypted data.

Qubitekk licenses ORNL single-photon source approach for quantum encryption 

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., July 25, 2017 – Qubitekk has non-exclusively licensed an Oak Ridge National Laboratory-developed method to produce quantum light particles, known as photons, in a controlled, deterministic manner that promises improved speed and security when sharing encrypted data. 

Current encryption techniques rely on complex mathematical algorithms to code information that is decipherable only to the recipient who knows the encryption key. Cyber threats in the energy environment are growing in frequency, scale and sophistication. Scientists, including a team at the Department of Energy’s ORNL, are leveraging the quantum properties of photons to enable novel cryptographic technologies that can better protect critical network infrastructures. 

Quantum information researchers have long recognized that photons are versatile for quantum computing or protecting sensitive information. However, systems that emit single photons typically do so at random times, and it is difficult to generate them as needed, or deterministically. 

The ORNL team turned to a method known as down-conversion, which yields not one but two photons. 

“The occurrence of paired photons is random and unpredictable,” said ORNL co-inventor Warren Grice. “But, it’s that randomness that we wanted to harness and use to our advantage.” This is accomplished by detecting one of the photons to signal the presence of the other. 

“The trick then is to direct the heralded photon using a combination of high speed and low-loss operations, so that it appears when needed,” Grice added. 

To keep from losing the photon pairs, the team built upon existing ideas of multiplexing, an approach that uses a series of light source systems comprising components common in fiber-optics. The ORNL system switches the speed and frequency of the heralded photon. This innovation carries out the switching in the frequency domain that potentially reduces single-photon loss. 

“The goal is to specify and control every aspect of the photon’s quantum state, constraining everything to a single mode so that the photons emitted from the single-photon source are identical—each one indistinguishable from the next,” ORNL co-inventor Nicholas Peters said. 

The identical photon pairs can be used in developing quantum key encryption technologies that protect information from cyber threats when shared over existing machine-to-machine networks. 

Qubitekk, a San Diego-based quantum technology company, which has been developing a quantum encryption device based on the single-photon source concept, hopes to strengthen that technology through further development of ORNL’s novel approach. 

“The idea of a nearly on-demand, single-photon source can be used to increase the speed, or data rates, and the distance you can send the quantum keys when transmitting encrypted information,” said Duncan Earl, president and chief technology officer of Qubitekk. “The ORNL technology could address both of those issues, which could move our product closer to commercialization.” 

He plans to enhance the company’s existing quantum information prototype through integrating the basic design with ORNL’s concept, which could either increase quantum encryption data rates 10-fold or maintain current data rates over much longer transmission distances.    

Operational networks used to control power grid operations will be strengthened by the ORNL-developed technology, which uses the fundamental principles of quantum physics to reveal, in real-time, the presence of an adversary attempting to intercept the exchange of secret keys used in cryptographic algorithms that protect energy sector information being communicated between legitimate parties. This advances the energy sector’s vision of resilient energy delivery systems that can survive a cyber incident. 

The inventors of the deterministic single-photon source concept are Joseph Lukens, Nicholas Peters and Warren Grice of ORNL’s Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. For more than a decade, they have experimented with ways to emit and fine-tune the production of single photons, with the goal of advancing quantum information applications including computing, communication and sensing. 

Earl expects Qubitekk to further develop the single-photon source design at the company’s facility and plans to advance to field trials with their existing customers including California-based utility companies. ORNL will provide additional support as needed. Earl is a former ORNL researcher who worked with the lab’s Cyber Warfare group and the Quantum Information Sciences team. 

This project was funded by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems (CEDS) program and ORNL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. Further information regarding this research, and other projects supported by the CEDS program, can be found at

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit


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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Sun Receives Power Electronics Achievement Award

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FGC Plasma Solutions Wins Top NASA Innovation Award

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Sandia Researcher Jacqueline Chen Elected to National Academy of Engineering

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Jacqueline Chen, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Chen is among the 99 new members from around the globe in the 2018 class.Election to the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction for an engineer in the United States.

PNNL Helps Form International Energy Storage Organization

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University Partnership to Help Nevada Scientists Commercialize Discovery

UNLV's Office of Technology Transfer and the Desert Research are partnering to help faculty and students leverage each other's talent and resources to transform inventions into new products and services.

DOE Seeks Industry Partners for HPC Research on Materials in Applied Energy Technologies

The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a funding opportunity totaling $3 million to support projects between U.S. industry and DOE national laboratories related to improving materials in severe or complex environments through the new High Performance Computing for Materials in Applied Energy Technologies (HPC4Mtls) Program.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Announces $30 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

Today, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) will award 179 grants totaling $30 million to 149 small businesses in 36 states.

Microgrid Coming to Northern California Airport

Designed by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, the microgrid will generate green electricity, create jobs for local contractors and technicians, and provide an energy lifeline in the event of a natural disaster.

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Unlocking On-Package Memory's Effects on High-Performance Computing's Scientific Kernels

Intuitive visual analytical model better explains complex architectural scenarios and offers general design principles.

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High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

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It's Not Part of the Problem, but Part of the Solution

Americium(III) is selectively and efficiently separated from europium(III) by an extractant in an ionic liquid.

Buckyball Marries Graphene

Electronic and structure richness arise from the merger of semiconducting molecules of carbon buckyballs and 2-D graphene.

Atomic Movies Explain Why Perovskite Solar Cells Are More Efficient

Tracking atoms is crucial to improving the efficiency of next-generation perovskite solar cells.

Catalysts: High Performance Lies on the Edge

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Global models may be underestimating net wetland methane emissions.

Researchers Decipher the Structure of a Bacterial Microcompartment

The geometric complexities uncovered provide insights into how these mini-organs get assembled, potentially of interest for fuel production.

CUORE Constrains Neutrino Properties

The CUORE experiment set the tightest limits yet on the rare decay of tellurium-130, providing insights into the nature of neutrinos.


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