The person behind this achievement is Jian-Wei Pan. He is a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), also referred to as China’s Caltech. Jian-Wei Pan is 48 years old and has produced a series of breakthroughs that have helped him become a scientific star in China. His work has helped him obtain appraise from President Xi Jinping, and he is often referred to as ‘the father of quantum’ in the local media.
About two years ago, on September 29, 2017, a Chinese satellite by the name of Micius made it possible to conduct an unhackable video conference between Vienna and Beijing. These two cities are half a world apart. The satellite, Micius, was moving at a speed of 29,000 kilometers per hour. The satellite beamed down a small data packet to a ground station located in Xinglong, which is a couple of hours’ drive to the northeast of Beijing. In under an hour, the satellite was making its way over Austria and send another data packet to a station located close to the city of Graz.
The packets sent were basically encryption keys aimed at securing the data transmissions. The keys that were distributed by Micius were encoded in photons in a delicate quantum state. Any attempt to intercept these keys would have resulted in a collapse of the state, thereby destroying the information and signaling that a hacker was present. This implies that the keys were more secure as opposed to the classical bits – a stream of electrical or optical pulses that represent 1s and 0s.
The video encryption was conventional instead of being quantum; however, the quantum keys were needed in order to decrypt it. This resulted in the world’s very first quantum-encrypted intercontinental video link. As of right now, quantum communications and computing are still taking shape, but they are the technological megaprojects that the Chinese government wants to achieve superiority in by 2030.
Jian-Wei Pan became the youngest-ever member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011. During an interview with MIT Technology Review, Jian-Wei Pan said, ‘We were only the follower and the learner at the birth of modern information science. Now we have a chance … to be a leader.’ Jian-Wei Pan wants to create a globe-spanning constellation of satellites that will help create a super-secure quantum internet. He also wishes to help China catch up with and overtake the US in creating powerful quantum computers.
The video call that has been made possible by the Micius satellite has been named after an ancient Chinese scientist and philosopher and is a result of international cooperation. The collaboration took place between teams that were being led by Jian-Wei pan and Anton Zeilinger – a quantum physicist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Zeilinger talking about Pan said, ‘When he came here, he was one hundred percent focused on theoretical physics. But I realized he could do more, so I suggested he switch to experiments, and he did that very successfully.’
We will have to wait and see how the father of quantum is able to sheer China into a new era of quantum technology.