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Pushing the boundaries to aid the world

By Zhang Zhihao and Zhang Yangfei | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-21 09:04
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Pan Jianwei: Leading China into a quantum future

Imagine a future where the internet is hack-proof, where computers can calculate quicker than today's supercomputers, and secrets are kept safe using strange physical phenomena that even Albert Einstein didn't understand.

That is the future that quantum physicist Pan Jianwei - known in China as the "Father of Quantum" - hopes to achieve through his work in quantum physics and the study of subatomic particles, nature's smallest building blocks.

Known for his optimism, enthusiasm and vision, the 48-year-old physicist from Dongyang, Zhejiang province, is spearheading China's march toward a quantum future.

In 1996, when Pan was pursuing a doctorate in physics at the University of Vienna, Austria, under renowned quantum scientist Anton Zeilinger, his mentor asked him why he wanted to study quantum physics. Pan replied, "I want to build a world-class quantum physics lab like the one you have, but in China."

While studying in Austria, Pan helped write a paper, "Experimental Quantum Teleportation", that became one of the most influential for quantum communication technologies after it was published in the journal Nature in 1997, according to Science Citation Index (SCI), a global scientific literature database.

In Time Magazine, which listed Pan as one of this year's 100 most influential people, Zeilinger wrote: "I can't imagine the emergence of quantum technology without Jianwei Pan. He is the kind of person who rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. His long-term goal of a quantum internet has come a few leaps closer because of this."

The term "quantum internet" refers to a network of satellites and ground-based equipment capable of sharing quantum information across the globe. This method of communication is inherently secure because attempts to eavesdrop affect the quantum state and trigger alarms, making it useful in government, defense, finance and other fields where security is paramount.

In 2001, Pan returned to China and ignited under the country's pursuit of quantum technologies. In the presmartphone age, he began building the world's first quantum communications satellite, Micius.

In 2016, the launch of Micius cemented China's reputation as a world leader in the application of quantum technology.

The satellite pushed the boundaries even further last year by establishing a quantum link between particles more than 1,200 kilometers apart, smashing the previous world record of 144 km. It also teleported a photon, the fundamental particle of light, from Earth to space instantaneously for the first time.

"China is at least five years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of quantum communications," Pan said. "It has also made world-class achievements in quantum computing. I hope within my lifetime, I will see the birth of the quantum internet."

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