Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
In the race to master and harness advanced technology, the Air Force is making strides in quantum research, bringing “Q-Day” to fruition sooner. Q-Day, or the day all Airmen will have access to quantum technology, is the ultimate goal for the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Scientists at AFRL are the backbone of these new developments in quantum mechanics and throughout the last year, they’ve partnered with academia and industry leaders worldwide to speed up these advancements in military technology.
For Dr. Kathy-Anne Soderberg, a research physicist, exploring this field of science consumes her time at AFRL.
“Quantum information is a relatively young field in the terms of physics,” she said. “But it has the potential to be a highly disruptive technology and that is because it’s not like anything we know about. We have never encountered this phenomenon before.”
While most of the Air Force’s technology works on classical mechanics, quantum mechanics dictates how single particles work at an atomic or molecular level, according to Soderberg. Air Force researchers are diving into quantum timing, sensing, networking and computing.
A classic computer tries to navigate its way through a maze by trying each path, one after another. A quantum computer tries each potential path at the same time, dramatically reducing the time necessary to find the solution. Computers utilizing the laws of quantum mechanics could exponentially increase the speed of computation for the Air Force, enabling the warfighter to act more quickly, a key component of success in any conflict.
Although she’s only been with AFRL for seven years, Soderberg has more than 20 years of technical experience in atomic physics and quantum information processing, which she uses daily in an effort to accomplish the AFRL goal. Her passion for physics began immediately after learning about atoms in a middle school science class and her interest continued in high school and college.
“I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I learned later I loved atomic physics,” she said. “I thought it was fascinating there was a whole other world out there that we couldn’t see.”
“When people ask me what I do, I tell them I shoot lasers at atoms, to make them do fun things,” she laughs. “That is where we can manipulate these atoms and expand their potential to do new things, like create superposition and entanglement.”
In 2017, Soderberg’s group was the first within AFRL to trap an ion. Research into harnessing trapped ions will assist in the networking aspect of quantum mechanics. Soderberg also explains this research will develop new platforms to distribute entanglement in greater distances and open the door to emerging technology, such as teleportation, distributive computing and more advancements in clocks and sensors.
“Working alongside the group and enterprise of AFRL has been incredible; every day is exciting here,” she said. “I continue to look forward to conducting great research and to advance the technology to somewhere it’s not today.”
In addition to Soderberg’s personal and team research and successes, she worked alongside her peers at AFRL to stand up the Innovare Advancement Center, located in Rome, New York. This facility is a central location for domestic and international collaborators to conduct further research on quantum networking and computing.
Q-Day is the finish line, however, passionate scientists at AFRL are persistently doing what they enjoy, pushing the Air Force closer to its objective.