Thanks for the Quantum Memory: DOE backs Qunnect

Q it up: Qunnect's quantum-communications aspirations have been supercharged by a fresh SBIR grant.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A red-hot “Quantum Memory” technology has secured a seven-figure federal grant for a Stony Brook startup with plans for ultra-secure global communications.

Qunnect Inc., which leverages tech created by Stony Brook University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and licensed from the Research Foundation for the State University of New York, has received a $1.5 million Phase-II Small Business Innovation Research award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Phase-II award supports the further development of Qunnect’s Quantum Memory device – which can store, manipulate and retrieve quantum states on-demand – including integration of the device with standard fiber-based telecommunication infrastructures.

The benefits are potentially enormous: a new, ultra-secure frontier of communication and information technologies, replete with quantum links, entanglement swapping and exponentially increased computational power.

Mehdi Namazi: (Stable) field of dreams.

And Qunnect, founded in 2017 specifically to commercialize tech created in SBU’s Quantum Information Sciences & Technology Laboratory, aims to do it all at room temperature – a complete game-changer in the world of quantum computing, which traditionally requires electron-spinning hot and long enough to melt down most facilities, without hefty investments in refrigeration and other environmental controls.

This dual purpose – to bring quantum tech to the masses, and to do it at comfy temperatures – has gained lots of attention, and copious prior funding. The proprietary thinking behind the Quantum Memory device has already landed $1 million in combined National Science Foundation grants, a $50,000 NSF Innovation Corps commercialization prize and a $50,000 SBU Discovery Prize for the Quantum Information Technology Group, managed by Qunnect cofounder and Chief Science Officer Eden Figueroa.

Late last year, the startup – based inside SBU’s Center for Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology – also closed an oversubscribed $800,000 seed-funding round, backed enthusiastically by the Accelerate NY Seed Fund, French venture-capital fund Quantonation and private investors.

And now comes the $1.5 million SBIR grant, which will essentially fund field tests of the Quantum Memory device in conjunction with the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Energy Sciences Network, a high-speed computer network dedicated to DOE scientists and their global collaborators.

The plan: to plug the Quantum Memory device into fiber networks connecting BNL to locations in New York City. In this test, the device will basically serve as a “quantum buffer,” regulating data flow at different nodes across the network – similar to a data buffer in traditional telecom systems.

The Quantum Buffers are also integral to Qunnect’s longer-term plans for a “Quantum Repeater,” which would enable quantum entanglement-based communications and “shatter the distance limitations currently experienced by first-generation quantum communications technologies,” according to the ambitious startup.

But first, the essential field test – a big deal for both the three-year-old deep-tech firm and the DOE’s larger quantum-computing designs, according to CEO Mehdi Namazi, a Yale University postdoctoral fellow and SBU alumnus (PhD in physics, 2018) who founded Qunnect with Figueroa, quantum-engineering ace Mael Flament and lead investor Robert Brill, managing partner of Jericho-based innovative alternative investment firm Newlight Management.

“We champion the Department of Energy’s vision to build the Quantum Internet, and we are very appreciative to have their support,” Namazi said. “Qunnect is committed to engineering field-stable devices that enable long-distance, quantum-secure communication on the existing telecom infrastructure.

“We believe this hybrid approach will accelerate the adoption of quantum technologies by early users,” Namazi added, “who will then develop the next generation of quantum communication protocols.”