"Just because it's on TikTok don't mean it's true," he said, drawing chuckles from the audience. "Knowledge is power. And if you are getting bad knowledge, it will disempower you. It will confuse you, and it will lead you to make bad decisions. And if you know how to sort out good information from bad information, you will have more power to make good decisions that take you where you want to go."
The Chicago Quantum Exchange includes Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Northwestern University. Its headquarters in Hyde Park hosts one node in a growing Chicago-area quantum communication network. The South Side node was activated this June in partnership with Toshiba Corporation whose quantum communication technology was used in the vote.
The two-hour field trip gave students a chance to understand the potential for quantum technology to revolutionize computing, communication, finance, and more. Students also learned about quantum careers from local companies ColdQuanta and EeroQ, as well as national and international companies JPMorgan Chase and Quantum Machines.
After students representing each side of the topic presented debate-style arguments, each student privately cast their vote by waving their hands across optical sensors. Their vote was then securely transmitted via encrypted quantum keys to another node in the network in a lab about a mile away at the University of Chicago, where their votes were tallied.
The technology used to conduct the vote, called quantum key distribution (QKD), represents a real-world example of unhackable communication. Toshiba’s QKD technology used in the vote carries quantum information—in the form of uniquely encrypted quantum keys—over fiber optic cable at a rate of over nearly 1 million quantum bits per second. Because of the quantum principles involved, if a student’s vote was compromised or viewed by an outside party, the message received on the other end would have been flagged—because of this, it would be impossible for votes to be unknowingly altered by a hypothetical hacker.
The majority voted that social media should be allowed to censor information, and the scientists running the event announced to the crowd that there was no evidence of hacking. Students at the event expressed a newfound interest in quantum principles and in potential careers in the emerging field.
“The idea that quantum information can be a lot more secure than normal information, that was new to me,” said David Minor, a junior student at Kenwood Academy. “And it was cool to learn about careers that people might want to do, they just don't know about them yet.”
Physics teacher Joseph Blake previously participated in the newly launched TeachQuantum program at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, supported by the National Science Foundation’s Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks, a UChicago partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison and led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The program focuses on teachers from South Side schools serving mostly students of color in Kenwood, Woodlawn, Hyde Park, Englewood, and South Chicago.
“This quantum network is platform for researchers to test their technologies, devise applications, and develop invaluable teaching tools for the next generation of quantum engineers,” said David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and Physics at the University of Chicago, and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. “Through their votes, the students are participants in a real-world application of quantum technology, and we hope the experience inspires them to become members of a future quantum community.”
—Adapted from an article first published by the Chicago Quantum Exchange.