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The future of the internet

Joseph Lukens, head of ASU's new Quantum Networking Lab, breaks down the science and potential behind a growing field

Digital graphic of quantum phenomenon.
January 18, 2023

Those who remember the days of dial-up internet may especially appreciate this decade’s developments in high-speed connectivity. We’ve come a long way since the days of "you’ve got mail," and thanks to quantum networking, Arizona State University is poised to make the next leap — with broad social and economic implications.

Through a series of new initiatives, ASU is signaling its commitment to advancing quantum information science and technology, or QIST, on a national stage. In collaboration with organizations such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cisco, ASU Knowledge Enterprise has designed a Quantum Networking Lab that is housed on ASU’s Tempe campus and serves as the central location for research and experiments throughout the metro area.

The lab is fully funded through Knowledge Enterprise and ASU’s recently launched Quantum Collaborative, a nationwide partnership among industry leaders and top academic and research institutions. 

“Quantum networking is a key element of ASU’s quantum technology initiative, and advancing this field will create a new wave of computer systems with the potential to deliver information faster, more securely and more accurately. This impacts every industry,” says Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “The Quantum Networking Lab is an exciting example of ASU’s commitment to advance research and discovery that is of value to our local, national and global communities.”

Foundational leadership

Leading the new lab will be Joseph Lukens, who recently joined ASU as senior director of quantum networking after seven years at Oak Ridge. Renowned for his studies of experimental and theoretical quantum information, and extensive published works, Lukens demonstrated a telecom-compatible "temporal cloak" early in his career as a graduate student at Purdue University. 

As a subfield of QIST, quantum networking focuses on solving problems related to the connections between computers. Just like social networking pioneered new ways for people to communicate, we may one day view quantum networking as the catalyzing field for computers to communicate in ways difficult for humans to fathom. 

Lukens believes that ASU and the Quantum Networking Lab have the potential to become national leaders in QIST. Continuing to prioritize partnerships, like those created in the Quantum Collaborative, will play a key role.

Joseph Lukens

Joseph Lukens, ASU senior director of quantum networking. Photo courtesy Carlos Jones/ORNL

 “No one researcher or institution can do everything alone,” Lukens says. “An attitude of openness and working together will be the key to pushing this field forward.”

Since joining ASU, Lukens explains that his work at the university typically consists of “designing and analyzing experiments, running simulations, writing papers and troubleshooting any roadblocks.”

“Ultimately, my mission at ASU is to develop a state-of-the-art quantum networking research program supporting end-to-end entanglement throughout the Phoenix area and beyond,” he says.

Entanglement refers to a group of particles that are so intertwined that actions performed on one can impact the others, even when they are very far apart from each other — like rolling two dice and getting matched numbers every time.

Working at the speed of light

Lukens aims to support entangled quantum systems at ASU that share properties with another quantum system far away from it. Harnessing end-to-end entanglement, quantum networking would allow a computer to be entangled with devices on the other side of the world — interacting with them at unprecedented sensitivity and security, on demand. 

“Take away quantum, and what do we want overall from networking? We want to access resources and to communicate and share information,” says Lukens, who aims to simplify and demystify complex concepts. “In quantum networking, we are after the same goals. But we're applying the most sophisticated features of quantum mechanics to help us achieve them.”

At the ASU Quantum Networking Lab, Lukens’ seminal work in entanglement could eventually lead to the creation of a powerful quantum internet and safer communication between systems, among other groundbreaking advancements.

Pathways to quantum innovation 

Bolstered by its strong partnerships in academia and with industry including IBM, Dell Technologies and Quantinuum, ASU also aims to usher in the next generation of quantum innovators as it fosters its talent. For Lukens, the journey to a career in quantum networking wasn’t straightforward. As a bass player interested in making music, and a student successful in mathematics, Lukens enrolled in engineering as an undergraduate hoping for a future as a studio engineer.

“Ultimately, I found a field that I love and that fascinates me, but it's not a direction that I could have predicted,” Lukens says.

Quantum encompasses principles of math, engineering, design, policy and more — making a diversity of pathways to careers in the field. 

In fact, one might say getting started with QIST is all about embracing the unknown. No one has all the answers because we’re just starting to uncover them as a field, making it an especially exciting time to join.

At ASU, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering offer a variety of programs that provide the foundation and skills for a career in QIST, ranging from computer science to mechanical engineering to innovation ventures and automation. As home to programs in mathematics and physics, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences contextualizes scientific principles and developments towards bolstering societal progress. 

Quantum industry leaders are also calling for technicians with a general understanding of quantum concepts to support atomic physics engineers and other highly specialized members of the workforce, making technology and education training key. ASU's Bachelors of Science in information technology, on the Polytechnic campus, provides a solid basis for quantum.

“If I were to give advice to a student considering the field, I would say don't let the enormity overwhelm you,” Lukens says. “You don't have to fully understand quantum mechanics to do quantum mechanics.”

Learn more about ASU’s quantum work and partnerships.

Written by Samantha Becker and Annie Costakis

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