Nigar Sultana has her eyes set on outer space. Now completed her PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Quantum Information at the University of Waterloo, Sultana is working with Thomas Jennewein on quantum communications satellites. This research mission is an important step toward a secure global communications satellite network.
Sultana began her university education in her home country of Bangladesh, where she completed an engineering degree. She earned her Master’s and was a lecturer. It wasn’t until she moved to the University of Waterloo in 2013 that she found a passion she enjoyed as much as teaching. She came to IQC as a research assistant to Thomas Jennewein, a professor at IQC and in Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Sultana was able to put her engineering degrees to work while diving into the fields of quantum photonics. She worked her way through her PhD while designing advanced single-photon detecting systems for a collaborative satellite project with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: the Cooling Annealing Payload Satellite (CAPSat).
"I want to do real experiments and see the outcome," said Sultana.
Sultana is excited to be participating in designing systems that will be launched into space. Her six-year quantum journey has resulted in her designing and building a quantum detector incorporating a laser annealing healing system for the CAPSat. The detectors going to space in the satellite for data testing must be able to heal themselves of the damage caused by being shot into space and the harmful radiation experienced once there.
Sultana notes that she had no working knowledge about satellites when she started her work at IQC. She had to learn everything about how to build a satellite payload and then make sure it could survive the rigours of space. “Everything matters, even the small things like glue,” she said.
While she’s focused on shrinking down her technologies — everything needs to fit in a satellite less than a thousand cubic centimetres — Sultana knows the impact of her work will be huge. Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a new communication system that secures
information using the laws of nature and is robust against advances in computer technology, even quantum computers. By experimenting with quantum-capable satellites, researchers are working to one day establish a global communications network for a quantum-secured Internet.
"When Canada launches its first quantum satellite, I will be able to say I'm part of this," she said. "I worked on this."