SMU Awarded $1M in Research Grants to Advance Quantum-Related Cybersecurity

Anametric, an Austin-based company developing novel devices for chip-scale quantum photonics, gave the grants to SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security with the long-term goal of building quantum computing devices.

Dallas’ Southern Methodist University has received a huge new funding opportunity that is meant to advance the long-term goal of building quantum computing devices.

For the quantum-related research, more than $1 million in grants have been awarded by Anametric to SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security. Anametric, which was founded by Apple veterans and serial entrepreneurs, is an Austin-based company that is working to develop novel devices for chip-scale quantum photonics, with a focus on cybersecurity.

According to SMU, the grants come full circle: Anametric began from a conversation Founder and CEO Wil Oxford had years ago with SMU researchers Dr. Mitch Thornton and Dr. Duncan MacFarlane.

Oxford and Thornton met back in 2014 when Thornton worked on a research grant funded by Oxford’s previous cybersecurity company. They say they enjoyed collaborating so much, frequent talks followed regarding quantum informatics and the ramifications it might have on cybersecurity in the future.

“One of those monthly conversations resulted in us filling a whiteboard with some pretty radical ideas, and that whiteboard was the genesis of this new company,” Oxford said in an SMU release.

Thornton and MacFarlane will be the ones using the new grants.

“We have to take baby steps, and this first grant is focused on quantum-based cybersecurity devices,” Thornton said in an SMU release. “We will focus on circuits that support important cybersecurity applications for quantum data, including next-generation encryption, to protect quantum information as it is being transmitted over a network or processed in a quantum computer.” 

Together Thornton and MacFarlane will investigate theoretical approaches that could enhance cybersecurity using quantum information. They will then leverage these approaches to build quantum photonic integrated circuits, according to SMU.

The researchers have a combined expertise of more than four decades in quantum information theory and quantum photonic integrated circuit design. Thornton is the Cecil H. Green Chair of Engineering and executive director of the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, and MacFarlane is the Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship, associate dean for Engineering Entrepreneurship, and executive editor for the Hart Institute for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

Thornton and MacFarlane will also collaborate with Oxford and his team at Anametric, which is a long-standing relationship dedicated to building “quantum photonic integrated circuits with the functionalities required to create, process, and detect single photons,” all in an extremely small package.  

The integrated circuits, according to the researchers, are designed to control individual particles of light and generate high-quality entropy, which is a string of random numbers that is the foundation of modern cybersecurity.

Oxford, Thornton, and MacFarlane have already filed seven U.S. patents related to this work.

“The trick is to find a commercially viable operating space within the current limits of photonic technology,” MacFarlane said. “Our partners at Anametric have been instrumental in defining where to seek that overlap.”

According to SMU, the research could pave the way for advances in quantum computing and quantum-related applications. This kind of technology exploits unique properties of quantum physics to enable complex tasks that would be impossible with today’s computers, the researchers say.

In partnering with Anametric, Thornton and MacFarlane consider the advancement to be an example of “the way engineering should work, but doesn’t always.”

“Both Engineering Entrepreneurship and the Hart Institute for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship seek to bolster economic development in the region by increasing the number of sophisticated companies based on sophisticated technology. In addition, a goal of Lyle’s Engineering Entrepreneurship activities is to help SMU faculty increase their relevant research activity by supporting Small Engineering firms, start-ups and the Private Equity/Venture Capital funding communities,” MacFarlane said.

“This relationship between Anametric and the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security is a great example of fulfilling the goal of helping SMU faculty to bridge the gap between theory and research in the Deason Institute laboratories to commercial development.”

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