China rewards Gilles Brassard for his role in the "quantum revolution"

Gilles Brassard.

Gilles Brassard.

Credit: Christian Fleury

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The UdeM computer scientist is the only Canadian among 12 winners of the new Micius Prize, which recognizes the greatest breakthroughs in quantum theory.

Université de Montréal computer-science professor Gilles Brassard and his U.S. colleague Charles H. Bennett of IBM Research are among 12 international scientists awarded a new Chinese prize for their role in developing quantum theory.

The Micius Foundation's Quantum Prize, named after the Chinese philosopher Mozi (ca. 468-381 BC), is in recognition of the researchers' development of "quantum key distribution, quantum teleportation and entanglement distillation."

A sum of one million yuan (about US$150,000) will be presented to Brassard and Bennett next September, along with a commemorative scroll, at a ceremony in Hefei, west of Shanghai.

Still little known but destined to become a major award in the discipline, the annual Micius Quantum Prize is intended to highlight the contribution of scientists from around the world who have carried out major work in the field of quantum computation.

There were 12 winners this year; Gilles Brassard is the only Canadian among them.

In its April 29 edition, the scientific journal Nature highlights the award and says that though China awards few international prizes it has great respect for quantum theory, "a field that China increasingly values and contributes to."

"For me, this is much-appreciated recognition by a country that invests a lot in the application of knowledge in quantum theory," Brassard said from Zurich, where he is on sabbatical for a year and is pursuing his research.

"Second quantum revolution"

Discovered at the start of the 20th century, quantum theory has led to the development of many technologies that growing in use today and are transforming society, according to  the Micius Foundation, based at the University of Science and Technology of China.

The current "second quantum revolution [has] moved beyond the first quantum revolution that simply exploited naturally occurring quantum effects," the foundation said in its April 29 announcement, and "has been driving and enabling a new generation of classically impossible tasks ranging from unconditionally secure quantum communications, breathtakingly powerful quantum simulation and quantum computation, to extremely sensitive measurements."

Communication experiments using quantum principles are now underway, added Brassard. One example is a fibre-optic link between Beijing and Shanghai that passes through 32 relays. Thanks to an encrypted key system, communication between two interlocutors 2,000 kilometres apart remains totally confidential, because the relays cannot be corrupted.

China has also launched a satellite (called Micius) built on the theories that Brassard and others have developed. "It's not science fiction; it's a part of the quantum revolution that's already a reality," Brassard said. As well, Quantum cryptography is being tested in China in the banking and insurance industries, where personal information must be securely preserved.

Still in the experimental stage are applications of the principles of quantum teleportation, which Brassard and Bennett invented in the 1990s with four other researchers, including McGill University's Claude Crépeau.

Last May in Israel, Brassard and Bennent were awarded the Wolf Prize in physics "for their role in launching quantum information theory."