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  1. Science and Technology Directorate
  2. News Room
  3. Big Promise from the Very Small

Big Promise from the Very Small

Release Date: April 14, 2023

You may have noticed that we just released a new episode of our Technologically Speaking podcast that highlights S&T’s work in Quantum Information Science (QIS). The timing of this episode is no small coincidence…in fact, it’s to honor today’s global commemoration of World Quantum Day.

I think it’s fair to ask why there is a World Quantum Day, why it’s observed on April 14, and while we’re at it, why is it important to us here at S&T?

The word “quantum” gets tossed around a lot these days, and the easiest way to understand it is right there in the name. Quantum refers to the physical properties of the very small—the very-very small. We learn in high school that a water molecule, or H2O, is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, but what are the atoms themselves made of? They are comprised of a whole array of even smaller particles, subatomic particles, and that is the scale we are talking about. The smaller and smaller you go, eventually you reach a minimum size for any amount of energy, called a quantum, which has an energy value of about 4.14 electron volt seconds. That’s why World Quantum Day is 4/14!

At S&T, the reason we are celebrating smallness today is that breakthroughs in QIS have the very real potential to be huge, even revolutionary, and much of it will directly affect the safety and security of the United States and the world.

Our podcast with Dr. Ann Cox of the Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Technology Centers delves into this further, but here are a couple of highlights:

Encryption is a vital part of what we work on here at the Science and Technology Directorate and across the Department of Homeland Security. Being able to communicate securely is crucial, and the speed and power that will be possible with quantum computers could soon make all of the encryption that we currently use obsolete. The encryption algorithms that would take hundreds of years for a current computer to break would only last minutes or hours against a quantum computer. The good news is that we’ve seen this coming and along with our partners at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have already begun the process of designing and testing new forms of encryption that can withstand the onslaught of this new level of computing power.

Along with the threat posed to encryption, QIS brings opportunities that S&T is already working to explore. Next month, S&T will begin research for the U.S. Coast Guard that will use quantum sensing to enable better communications in the Arctic region. S&T is also engaged with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to identify and fund quantum sensing technology projects. S&T and NATO will hold a related joint workshop this fall.

In addition, S&T is working to train the next generation of quantum-related research. Our Office of University Programs is partnering with the University Space Research Association (USRA) and the Minority Serving Institution (MSI) STEM Research and Development Consortium to launch the USRA/MSDRC Quantum Initiative; through this effort, students from MSIs will be connected with ongoing research in the areas of quantum information systems, artificial intelligence, remote surveillance, and modeling and simulation. Inaugural participants are students from two Historically Black Colleges and Universities—Hampton University and Morgan State University—and Navajo Technical University, a Navajo Nation Tribal College.

I will be giving the keynote address at the Quantum.Tech event later this month in Boston, where the theme will be showcasing successes in the commercialization of quantum technologies through real-life user case studies. I look forward to speaking with attendees and also learning from them.

Today is a day not only to recognize the role that QIS will play in our future and prepare for the challenges and possibilities that it brings, but it’s also a day to remember that the future is constantly unfolding, and S&T is embracing that future and will be ready to secure the homeland whatever tomorrow brings.

Last Updated: 04/14/2023
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