A skillful approach

Christopher Pugh, PhD Student

Manitoba native CHRISTOPHER PUGH wanted a graduate program that would provide relevant, real-world training and the opportunity to gain transferable skills for both academic and industrial career paths. He found the right fit at the University of Waterloo in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, studying Physics (Quantum Information) as a member of the Institute for Quantum Computing.

Pugh researches free space propagation of quantum information signals over long distances for the purpose of secure quantum communication, specifically quantum key distribution (QKD). QKD uses the laws of quantum mechanics to establish a shared key that is secure and independent of any other data, provided the two parties also share a classical authenticated channel. The potential to share quantum keys globally opens up with a satellite network where quantum keys can be distributed from ground stations located around the world to satellite stations and back.

The Quantum Encryption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) mission aims to generate encryption keys through the creation of quantum links between ground and space.

Pugh’s involvement with the QEYSSat mission began six years ago when starting his Master’s degree under the supervision of IQC researcher and QEYSSat Principal Investigator THOMAS JENNEWEIN. Pugh played a major role in achieving a successful QEYSSat milestone as the technical lead on the development of the Quantum Key Distribution Receiver Acquisition, Pointing and Tracking (QKDR APT) system in collaboration with industry partners, including the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). “We performed successful QKD over a longer distance than we previously demonstrated with the fine pointing unit,” said Pugh. “It was a crucial step to bringing the QEYSSat project closer to a future quantum space mission.”

Pugh’s research goes up from there – literally. Recently, he was part of the first successful transmission of a secure quantum key from a source on the ground to a quantum satellite receiver prototype on board a National Research Council of Canada (NRC) aircraft. After a week of meticulous testing to certify that all equipment was airworthy, Pugh took to the sky in the NRC aircraft where he used the fine pointing unit and other custom systems to receive photons and extract a quantum key sent from a photon source on the ground. “Receiving the photons in the air was definitely a highlight,” recalled Pugh. “This was a real team effort. To see something finally come together after working towards it for so long feels very rewarding.”

The rewards extend beyond research for Pugh. Recognized with the IQC David Johnston Award for Scientific Outreach in 2013, he is actively involved in outreach activities. He’s even co-hosted the Q-Kids science show with Scientific Outreach Officer ELECTRA ELEFTHERIADOU. “I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities to participate in outreach at IQC,” said Pugh. “It’s given me a chance to develop new skills, give back to the community and to share my passion for science with others.”