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Zero-knowledge proof systems for QMA

Dr. Anne Broadbent

Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Imagine you know the solution to a complex problem, want to prove to your professor that your solution is valid, but don’t want your professor to learn how you discovered the solution.

Such a task is called a “zero-knowledge proof.” Together with collaborators, Professor Anne Broadbent has shown that zero knowledge proofs ARE possible, even when the proof is for a hard quantum problem.

Professor Anne Broadbent, wearing a blue striped shirt, is sitting in an office and wearing white wrist-length gloves to hold historic keys.

This result, which builds on Broadbent’s earlier work on quantum cryptography, is surprising and counter-intuitive. However, it could be useful in cryptographic protocols, for example, in electronic voting or online auctions.

Research results appeared in the proceedings of the 2016 Annual Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS), one of the most prestigious venues in the field of theoretical computer science.

High-dimensional quantum cloning and applications to quantum hacking

Dr. Ebrahim Karimi, Dr. Robert Boyd, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Robert Fickler and PhD student Frédéric Bouchard

Department of Physics

Quantum mechanics, the laws of nature that dictate the behaviour of microscopic objects (e.g., atoms), is arguably one of the most counterintuitive scientific theories.

For instance, one of its strangest features results in a fundamental difference between quantum information and classical information. In everyday life, information may be copied perfectly, for example, using the copy-paste option on a computer, or with a printer or a copy machine. But this does not hold true in the quantum world. According to the no-cloning theorem, there is a limit on the quality of the quantum copies, which depends on the complexity of the original copy. Indeed, attempts at cloning quantum information result in “bad” copies.

From left to right, Dr. Robert Boyd, Dr. Ebrahim Karimi, PhD student Frédéric Bouchard and Dr. Robert Fickler, all wearing white shirts, are leaning on a metal table. Photon sources, detectors, modulators, mirrors and optical fibres are placed on the table.

In their laboratory, professors Ebrahim Karimi and Robert Boyd, along with postdoctoral fellow Robert Fickler and PhD student Frédéric Bouchard, built the first cloning machine for complex quantum systems, namely, structured photons (the quantum of light). This quantum cloning machine was used to study the effect of a quantum attack on a secure communication link. Their research shows that the security of quantum cryptography increases when more information is stored on a single photon.

Old rocks yield new clues with the discovery of oldest records of life on Earth

Dr. Jonathan O'Neil

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Professor Jonathan O’Neil, joined by an international team of scientists, discovered what is being called the earliest signs of life.

This discovery was made in a commonly ignored substance right beneath our feet, rocks, known as “branded iron formations,” in the Nuvvuagattiuq Greenstone Belt in Northern Quebec. Such a discovery has great potential to help scientists find the missing pieces in understanding early Earth.

Professor Jonathan O’Neil in his laboratory, wearing a white uOttawa lab coat, holding the rock containing the earliest signs of life.

According to O’Neil, scientists had previously theorized that early Earth would have been inhospitable.  However, research is now suggesting otherwise. Thanks to this 4.3 billion-year-old bedrock, it may be possible to determine when life began to emerge on Earth, and to raise new questions concerning possible life on other planets. O’Neil claims that Mars and Earth were “probably very similar” 4.3 billion years ago. Who knows, maybe there was life on Mars as well!

Is single molecule spectroscopy ready to join the toolkit of organic chemistry and drug discovery?

Dr. Juan Tito Scaiano and research associate Dr. Anabel Lanterna

Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences

Single molecule spectroscopy (SMS) is a technique that allows the detection of one molecule at a time by following the electromagnetic radiation emitted upon interaction with light.

Professor Juan (Tito) Scaiano and research associate Anabel Lanterna have shown how SMS has matured to the point where it can be used as an instrument to guide organic synthesis and drug discovery.

A man dressed in black, Professor Tito Scaiano, and a young woman wearing a scarf, research associate Dr. Anabel Lanterna, pose in a research laboratory. Electrical circuits are placed on the table in front of them.

The researchers found techniques to manipulate one molecule in particular, and to direct its behaviour so it develops desirable chemical changes. Notably, in their experiments, the researchers used “click chemistry” or “click reactions,” a series of high yielding reactions. For example, they found that the reaction between alkynes and azides had improved thanks to the knowledge acquired by using single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy.

Scaiano hopes that these results will enable major advances in organic synthesis and drug discovery, relying on an intimate understanding of how a molecule reacts and building new large-scale technologies from this knowledge.

How we evolved to have five fingers and toes

Dr. Marie-Andrée Akimenko and PhD candidate Robert Lalonde

Department of Biology

Polydactyly is a medical term for the presence of extra fingers or toes, a condition similar to ancient, extinct animal species. Our earliest terrestrial ancestors, known as tetrapods (meaning “with four limbs”), had polydactylous limbs that had evolved from fish fins in the transition from aquatic to terrestrial life.

Professor Marie-Andrée Akimenko posing behind a shelving unit that holds six rectangular fish tanks containing zebrafish.

PhD candidate Yacine Kherdjemil and Dr. Marie Kmita, Montreal-based collaborators, discovered a small DNA sequence in the mouse genome known as an enhancer, which modulates the activity of a gene named Hoxa11 involved in limb development in mice. When normal Hoxa11 activity is disrupted, the mice developed polydactylous limbs, suggesting a role of this enhancer in the evolution of limbs with five fingers and toes. Here at the University of Ottawa, PhD candidate Robert Lalonde and Prof. Marie-Andrée Akimenko went looking for this enhancer sequence in the zebrafish genome but found no evidence of its existence in fish, suggesting that it emerged during the fin-to-limb transition. They also showed that Hoxa11 activity in zebrafish significantly differs from what is seen in mice, providing further evidence the enhancer element is indeed a tetrapod innovation. Dissecting the mechanisms of limb development is crucial for understanding the causes of congenital limb malformations.


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