Quantum Random Number Generator Increases Security

The search for the mysterious axion particle, believed to exist in dark matter, inspired the creation of a technology that uses quantum optics to rapidly generate numbers that are truly random.

The generation of truly random numbers is at the heart of cyber security, and cyber security is critical to a range of applications – from national security, to the protection of sensitive business and personal information.

These quantum random number generators (QRNGs) are the inventions of Carol Scarlett, founder of Axion Technologies, LLC and a Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) Cohort 4 innovator.

In January 2016, Scarlett, who has a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Yale University, founded Axion Technologies, LLC to provide “enhanced cybersecurity.”

“There’s no way to mathematically figure out where it’s going to go,” Scarlett said of the random numbers generated.

Scarlett joined CRI’s Cohort 4 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in June 2020. CRI is a two-year entrepreneurship program that embeds innovators in the Lab to help them grow their early-stage technologies. While embedded, Scarlett has worked with two Argonne scientists—Liliana Stan and Jeffrey Guest—at the Center for Nanoscale Materials.

About Axion Technologies 

Unlike classic number generation via algorithms which provide numbers that can be predictable due to patterns, Scarlett’s QRNGs use quantum mechanics to provide truly random numbers. This enhances cybersecurity because the numbers cannot be predicted.

Her QRNGs are also parallel because there are a multitude of outputs at the same time. The parallel functionality increases the cost-effectiveness and speed of random number generation (e.g., several friends baking dozens of cakes, each in their own ovens at the same time, accomplish the task much faster than each taking turns to use the same oven).

Unlike classic number generation via algorithms, which provide numbers that can be predictable due to patterns, Axion uses quantum mechanics to provide truly random numbers.

Scarlett has reached several milestones with Axion Technologies since joining Cohort 4. On the technical side, Scarlett started fabrication and characterization of the microchip QRNG, having scaled down her initial black box design.

She was also chosen to participate in two startup incubators – Duality, selected in June 2021, and an incubator for chief technical officers, selected July 2021.

Impact

By providing QRNGs, Axion Technologies hopes to improve cybersecurity, increase speed, lower costs and reduce carbon emissions.

“You are consuming less electrical energy to do the same process,” Scarlett said of her inventions’ contributions to CO₂ reduction.

Within a year, Scarlett hopes that Axion Technologies will have a black box QRNG pilot and a prototype for the microchip. She hopes that her black box QRNG will be used in communications systems and that the microchip will be used in the central processing units (CPUs) of automated vehicles.

How it Works

Prior to founding Axion Technologies, Scarlett was searching for the mysterious axion particle, which is believed to exist in dark matter.

“No one has found an axion,” Scarlett said of the elusive particle that scientists have been seeking for decades.

Her experiment inspired her invention of the initial black box QRNG, which incorporates a similar method, including optical beam splitting that is used to seek the axion.

“There’s no way to mathematically figure out where it’s going to go,” Scarlett said of the random numbers generated.

The initial QRNG that Scarlett invented is a large-scale metal box with 200 fiber optic lines coming out of it. It is about the size of a free-standing hard drive —roughly 10 inches high, 2 inches thick and 6 inches wide. Inside the black metal box is a small laser, optical lenses, layers of calcite and fiber optic lines. Photon beams are split again and again, due to the polarization and crystal lattice of calcite, as they navigate through layers, which is known as “random walking”—a quantum effect.

The split photon beams eventually end up randomly traveling down different fiber optic lines. A device counts the number of photons sent down each fiber optic line (e.g., eight photons down one line, 30 down another line and 70 down another) with photons for each fiber optic line then assigned a one or zero for programming purposes, based on the number of photons.

The microchip currently under development, which is composed of titanium oxide, will incorporate a similar method but use thin films instead of calcite.

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