Quantum mechanics may contribute to military surveillance
Sharon Kolbet/DN

Electrical engineering professor Supriyo Bandyopadhyay holds a specially processed aluminum wafer containing more than 1 trillion quantum dots. Bandyopadhyay specializes in quantum dot electronics.

Quantum dots promise to pave the way for a new world in technology.As minuscule entities that are 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, quantum dots have properties which make them the ideal building blocks for a new quantum computing system.Unlike traditional computers that rely on classical physics, the new generation of computers would operate under the strange and fascinating laws of quantum mechanics."With quantum mechanics it is possible for an entity to coexist in two different states at the same time," said electrical engineering professor Supriyo Bandyopadhyay.The ability to be in two different places simultaneously is known as quantum parallelism."The concept of a parallel existence is difficult to explain," Bandyopadhyay. "It appears very strange and mystical."Bandyopadhyay holds a patent on a process that creates an extremely well-ordered array of ultra-small structures on the surface of aluminum. Referring to an aluminum wafer the size of a postage stamp, Bandyopadhyay explained that the small metal chip contained more than 1 trillion quantum dots.In 1997, the U.S. Army Research Office picked Bandyopadhyay's work as one of the four most notable achievements in nanoscience, which is science that focuses on very small structures.As a major supporter of quantum dot research, the U.S. military has a vested interest in a quantum computer's potential to solve encrypted messages."A complicated code might take 10 to 100 years to solve with a classical computer but a quantum computer could crack the code in a matter of seconds," Bandyopadhyay said.Another quantum dot project that receives military funding involves University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors Paul Snyder, Sina Balkir, Ned Ianno, Frazer Williams and Bandyopadhyay.This specialized group is hard at work on the creation of special military "bees." These man-made, bee-sized aerial vehicles are not your typical pollinators, gathering military intelligence instead of honey.For the bee project, the engineering team has worked together on a device known as a cellular neural network that uses quantum dots to process complicated visual information into a useful form.These futuristic mini-machines will be able to travel into enemy territory and gather visual information as well as function as the proverbial "fly on the wall" by eavesdropping on top-secret discussions."As small, powerful computers with wings, these bees have to be somewhat intelligent," said Ianno, also an electrical engineering professor.When asked if UNL was pioneering the way toward artificial intelligence, Ianno said quantum dot electronics do raise that possibility."I am not so sure that artificial intelligence is possible, but if you shove enough information into a quantum computer it certainly can mimic thinking," Ianno said.Bandyopadhyay and his colleagues - Ianno, Snyder, Williams, Rod Dillon and Latika Menon - have devoted years of study into quantum research, but they are probably five years away from demonstrating a quantum computer in the lab, and a commercial version won't be available for another 20 to 25 years, Bandyopadhyay said.As one of only a handful of groups in the country attempting to make quantum computers with quantum dots, the electrical engineering department has been recognized by the National Science Foundation as being a leader in the field."The process is difficult" said Bandyopadhyay, "but the payoff is tremendous."