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Students help demo voting via QKD at Chicago Quantum Exchange event

By Dan O'Shea posted 21 Oct 2022

More than 50 students from Kenwood Academy, a high school on Chicago’s South Side, took part in one of the first demonstrations of the use of a quantum key distribution network for voting purposes. Former President Barack Obama was a surprise guest at the event, which took place at the headquarters of the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

The exchange, based at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, is home to one of the nodes of a quantum communications network that also includes the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Northwestern University. The QKD network was activated earlier this year in partnership with Toshiba.

In the mock voting demonstration, students were able to debate a topic and then vote by waving their hands across optical sensors, with the votes 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 votes were tallied. With QKD, if a student’s vote was compromised or viewed by an outside party, the message received on the other end would have been flagged. After the vote, event organizers told the students that all votes had been submitted securely without issue.

“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, according to a statement from the university. “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.” 

Officials from ColdQuanta, EeroQ, JPMorgan Chase, and Quantum Machines also spoke to students at the event about careers in quantum technology.

“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, according to the university statement. “And it was cool to learn about careers that people might want to do, they just don’t know about them yet.” 

Photo credit: Anne Ryan / Chicago Quantum Exchange

Dan O’Shea has covered telecommunications and related topics including semiconductors, sensors, retail systems, digital payments and quantum computing/technology for over 25 years.

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