A fast-growing UK startup is quietly making strides in the promising field of quantum photonics. Cambridge-based company Nu Quantum is building devices that can emit and detect quantum particles of light, called single photons. With a freshly secured £2.1 million ($2.71 million) seed investment, these devices could one day underpin sophisticated quantum photonic systems, for applications ranging from quantum communications to quantum computing.
The company is developing high-performance light-emitting and light-detecting components, which operate at the single-photon level and at ambient temperature, and is building a business based on the combination of quantum optics, semiconductor photonics, and information theory, spun out of the University of Cambridge after eight years of research at the Cavendish Laboratory.
“Any quantum photonic system will start with a source of single photons, and end with a detector of single photons,” Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, the CEO of Nu Quantum, tells ZDNet. “These technologies are different things, but we are bringing them together as two ends of a system. Being able to controllably do that is our main focus.”
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As Palacios-Berraquero stresses, even generating single quantum particles of light is very technically demanding.
In fact, even the few quantum computers that exist today, which were designed by companies such as Google and IBM, rely on the quantum states of matter, rather than light. In other words, the superconducting qubits that can be found in those tech giants’ devices rely on electrons, not photons.
Yet the superconducting qubits found in current quantum computers are, famously, very unstable. The devices have to operate in temperatures colder than those found in deep space to function, because thermal vibrations can cause qubits to fall from their quantum state. On top of impracticality, this also means that it is a huge challenge to scale up