Startup makes quantum leap to Waterloo Region
Article as per TheRecord.com (Original publisher)
KITCHENER — Mohammadreza Rezaee and his wife Raina Olsen are entangled.
They are the founders of Aurora Quantum Technologies, formerly known as Q Spice Labs — the first quantum startup in the Velocity Garage in downtown Kitchener.
They both have PhDs in physics and an ambitious agenda to build a quantum repeater that will speed particles of light — photons — over the quantum internet of the future. Rezaee figures they need $2 million and three years to build it.
Quantum devices and computers harness the properties of atomic particles — atoms, photons, ions, electrons and the like. The movement of the atomic particles and the relationships among them are used to transmit and store information, or run computations.
"The most complicated machines people have ever tried to build, that's why we love it, it's such a hard problem," said Rezaee.
After finishing the quantum program at the Creative Destruction Lab, a University of Toronto accelerator, they set up shop in the University of Waterloo's Velocity Garage incubator in the Tannery building.
While Rezaee, the startup's chief science officer, works in Kitchener, Olsen, the CEO, is in California meeting with prospective customers, collaborators and investors.
But they are in constant communication, just like a pair of entangled atomic particles in a quantum system. What happens to one will happen to the other, no matter the distance between them.
"It is going pretty well," Olsen said during a Skype interview from Silicon Valley.
Olsen and Rezaee are building a device that will send encrypted messages over long distances in a quantum internet. The technology remains highly experimental and because it is so expensive to develop, Olsen wants potential customers on-board now.
"We are mostly talking to other companies in the security space," said Olsen.
"If you have a really good story about why you can win, why you can do something that other people can't, there are investors out there who are willing to take a chance on you."
Rezaee said it was no contest where to locate the business. With 16 startups working on quantum technology, Waterloo Region is a hotbed for research and development in the field, said Rezaee.
"We thought the Kitchener-Waterloo area would be the best place to be," he said.
The talent coming out of UW, growing network of startups in the region and the low cost of living compared to California are all benefits, said Olsen.
During the past five years, research and development has progressed to the point where quantum computers will be deployed in the real world in the near future, she said.
Currently, information moves through fibre-optic cables on the internet. Every 100 kilometres or so an amplifier boosts the signals moving through the cables as pulses of light. The quantum repeater Rezaee and Olsen want to build will do essentially the same thing for a quantum internet. They already have provisional patents for one.
"That is the first priority, hopefully our first product," said Rezaee. "Our goal is to make it possible to have quantum communications established anywhere around the world without distance limitations."
Aurora Quantum plans to use the fabrication shops and labs at the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Technology at UW. But with a cost of about $150-an-hour plus materials, the total cost to produce a single superconducting chip for a quantum computer could easily reach $10,000, said Rezaee.
After earning his undergrad and master's degrees in Iran, Rezaee moved to the United States to do a PhD at the University of Tennessee. He did post-doctoral work at Texas A&M University before he co-founded Q Spice Labs and moved the business to Toronto. After completing her PhD in physics, Olsen did post-doctoral work at the U.S. Army Research Library and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
"Now, I have all the skills, and I am in the right time at the right place to be a part of this exciting new development in human history — quantum computing," she said.
To help educate the public and raise the profile of Waterloo Region's quantum computing startups, Rezaee started a group called the Kitchener-Waterloo Quantum Technologies Enthusiasts. It has more than 130 members.