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Quantum communication system can detect earthquakes

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Quantum encoded messages sent over cables over long distances are sensitive to small vibrations, indicating a potential byproduct of a secure network in the future.

Technology May 17, 2022

A building destroyed by an earthquake in the Turkish city of Izmir in October 2020

OZAN ​​KOSE / AFP via Getty Images

Quantum communication technology can also measure minute vibrations in the ground, making it useful in detecting earthquakes and landslides.

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) uses certain properties of photons – particles of light – to encrypt data sent between two devices, making the system more secure than traditional encryption. If an eavesdropper tries to access the encrypted data, the quantum state of the photons changes, which can be detected and the transmission is stopped.

Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology in China and colleagues demonstrated a type of QKD called a dual-field QKD, which uses how individual photons interfere with each other to encode data. They succeeded in transmitting encrypted data over a 658 km cable with minimal data loss, one of the longest distances demonstrated by any QKD system.

The encoded information is contained in a quantum characteristic called the phase of a photon, which must be carefully measured along the length of the cable. Any environmental disturbances, such as vibrations in the ground, also affect this phase and can be detected.

“For the first time, we have shown that a dual-field QKD system can distribute quantum keys and sense vibrations over very long distances, which is a novel mechanism to our knowledge,” says Pan.

The data transfer rate must be improved before the technology can be integrated into a large-scale quantum communications network. But if it does in the future, vibration sensing could be a useful byproduct of such a system, says Timothy Spiller of the University of York, UK.

One of the impressive aspects of vibration sensing, he adds, is how accurately it can determine the length of the cable. “They can determine that there are vibrations on the fibers, but then they also use the timing information to determine where that vibration is on the fibers to within about a kilometer of accuracy.”

Journal reference: Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/ PhysRevLett.128.180502

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