College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Ms Samukelisiwe Phehlukwayo graduated with her Masters in Physics.

Quantum Physics Masters Graduate Focuses on Quantum Key Distribution for Undergraduates

Masters graduate, Ms Samukelisiwe Phehlukwayo, is applying her knowledge and research in the area of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) to explore ways of introducing the secure communication method to the undergraduate curriculum.

Phehlukwayo developed a manual for undergraduate students to learn the procedures of QKD using the ID3000 systemfrom ID Quantique. This manual aids students in using this system to perform QKD, one of the most secure information transfer protocols in the world.

‘Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) encodes information into a quantum system and transfers it between two remote parties with the aim of producing a secure key,’ said Phehlukwayo.

‘The essence of my research project is to introduce QKD to undergraduate students, enabling them to learn and acquire in-depth knowledge of the fundamental laws of physics, in particular Quantum Mechanics,’ she said.

QKD refers to the use of physical processes to transfer information using a quantum carrier in the form of single photons through a quantum channel.

Phehlukwayo is excited about its potential to offer the country a better and more robust way of securing information.

Her work has taken her to two conferences to present her results, and afforded her the opportunity to attend a winter school in quantum communication in Switzerland in 2016.

The Mshweshwe High School alumnus pursued her undergraduate and honours degrees at the University of Zululand, choosing to study Physics because of her love of nature and her quest to better understand how nature behaves.

‘Physics describes how matter and atoms interact with the environment,’ said Phehlukwayo. ‘As a subject it is naturally challenging, however, it is fun when determination is one’s ultimate goal.’

After receiving her honours, Phehlukwayo chose to further her studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), thanks to it being among the top four rated universities on the continent and home to the only Centre for Quantum Technology in South Africa.

Phehlukwayo is now pursuing a PhD in Quantum Communication within the Quantum Research Group at UKZN, where her exposure to research has trained her for the academic career she is aiming for.

Phehlukwayo has worked hard to achieve her academic goals while also juggling the responsibilities and demands of motherhood.

‘I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my supervisor, Prof Francesco Petruccione, and co-supervisor Dr Yaseera Ismail for the role they have played during my studies, training me to be the best student I am today,’ said Phehlukwayo.

Words: Christine Cuénod