Eminent physicist Dr. Ebrahim Karimi from Iranian Kurdistan believes Kurdistan is behind the rest of the world when it comes to scientific education and knowledge. Kurds are known for what they have suffered, he said in an interview with Rudaw. He believes that investing in primary and secondary education is the way forward.
Dr. Karimi currently holds the Canada Research Chair in the field of Structured Light and is group leader of Structural Quantum Optics at the University of Ottawa. He is part of a team that is working on an anti-hacking system for quantum computing networks.
Rudaw: Who is Dr. Ebrahim Karimi?
I was born in the city of Saqqez where I finished primary and secondary school. I did my Bachelor’s in physics at Kerman University. I was one of those selected in Iran to study for a Master’s degree. I completed my Master’s program at Higher Education for Science in the Iranian city of Zanjan in 2003. Then, I went to the Kurdistan Region where I taught for three years at the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH). I studied for a PhD in Italy in 2007. I then studied for a postdoctoral program jointly arranged by six European countries. I went to Canada in 2012 where I teach and conduct scientific research.
Why did you choose to study physics?
I have been interested in mathematics and physics since I was a child. These two are the foundations of all sciences. My parents
We invented a quantum cloning device which is used to prevent hacking of encoded messages
always encouraged me to study what I wanted to study. And this helps you develop your abilities in the area you find interesting. In addition, my high school teachers were also a motivating force for me to learn more. I am still grateful for them. I am still in touch with them.
Can you talk about your latest project – an anti-hacking system for quantum computing networks?
Yes. It’s been over three years that I have been supervising the project. We invented a quantum cloning device which is used to prevent hacking of encoded messages and also preventing hackers from getting a copy of the message. We have managed to find new ways to protect social networking sites from external attacks. For example, you and I are having a conversation in the Kurdish language. It will be very difficult for an English-speaking person listening to our conversation to understand us for we have a common language. I speak, and you analyse the language in your mind and have the ability to understand. An English-speaking person can’t analyse our words in their mind.
It is the same in the world of computers. If we want to send a message from one computer to another computer, we should create a number of common encoded protocols which no one understands.
Nowadays, all the protocols of exchanging information are mathematical symbols too complex to be hacked. For example, the following is how mathematical language was used in the past when we had to exchange information through a letter. You are based in Erbil and I am in Sulaimani. I send the letter through somebody to you, but I don’t want the messenger to understand the contents of the letter. For this reason, we create a protocol between ourselves. I replace each letter in a proper English word with the third letter that comes after in the alphabet. For instance, I want to send you the word ‘some’, I will replace ‘s’ with ‘v’, ‘o’ with ‘r’, ‘m’ with ‘p,’ and ‘e’ with ‘h’. This way, I will send you the word ‘vrph’ instead of ‘some’. You will be using the common protocol to understand that ‘vrph’ means ‘some.’ The person carrying the letter might try to understand the contents of the letter I sent you.
This way of communication was upgraded after the First World War. Very complicated mathematical equations were used to communicate among forces. Enemy forces intercepting the communication had to spend days or even years to decode the complex mathematical equations, sometimes even inventing intricate devices to do so.
The information we exchange through our computers and mobile phones is still subject to being hacked. That is why complicated equations are constantly being used to protect the privacy of information sharing. If you are in possession of a bank code, you can break into the bank if you manage to decipher its complex mathematical codes, which are extremely difficult to understand.
But in quantum computers, information on photons is recorded and exchanged. That is why the hiding of information changes. This way, information gets complicated and murky. When I say this book is here, I know where it is in my world, but one doesn’t know where it is in the quantum world. One would know these things exist, but wouldn’t know where they are.
When we exchange information in the quantum world, there is a possibility of an external attack which can control the network in a way they can make a copy of the information and then send it to you. But there is no copying in quantum mechanics. You can’t
We are very much behind [scientifically in Kurdistan]
produce a copy of a message which is 100 percent accurate. Moreover, the longer the message is, the worse its copy gets. Thus, the message sent from me to you is incomplete, while it should be exactly the same as the message I originally sent you. Copying the message will render it erroneous. If the copied message is 13 percent wrong, we will then know that our system has been hacked. This mechanism to protect information sharing didn’t exist before. We invented it.
What is the shape and size of the device?
The device is big at the moment and has a strange shape as it is in the experimental phase. But we have plans to make it smaller and industrialise it.
Do you think classic computers will be turned into quantum ones?
Many companies claim they have quantum computers. For example, D-Wave Company has sold quantum computers to NASA and Google. But we think these are not purely quantum computers. Rather, they are a hybrid of classic and quantum computers.
Many countries and big companies are currently working on building quantum computers. There are four big such projects due to be worked on. For this reason, Europe has dedicated €1 billion, the UK £1 billion, and China $400 million. They have even sent a shuttle into space.
After we built our device, we were contacted by China telling us that they had wasted $400 million on this shuttle due to our device. Nearly 50 to 60 scientists including myself are engaged with preparations to hold a conference to discuss a budget of $1 billion for quantum computing networks. However, it is unclear when quantum computers will replace classic ones. This might take 10 years.
What other things you have invented besides this device?
Last year, we did something important. We proved that the speed of light in space is not stable. Einstein’s theory says that the speed of light in space never changes. But we argued that the speed of light in space changes. This argument echoed widely. Many international organizations did research on it.
We also did scientific research on the argument that says if you analyse light too much and make it smaller while in movement, its shape is a vertical invisible layer. However, we argued that if you draw in the light, it will have a hollow, circular, curly, 3-dimensional shape. This remained without further analysis in physics for 15 years. We discovered this after 7 years of work on it.
We also built a quantum network in Ottawa for which we used light quantum – only one photon. For instance, when you look at the sky during a dark night, you will see a very dim star which sends to your eyes 10 to 12 photons in a second. In doing so, we used only
Primary and high school students are very important for society
one single photon which is never seen. It was a very difficult and big project which led to success.
What do you think of the level of science in Kurdistan?
We are very much behind. There are certain things which Kurdistan should do to develop its level of science. Europe has had universities for 800 years. The US, which is not as old as the EU, built the best universities in 150 years, which are greater than EU ones. This happened because of two reasons: first, proper planning, second, necessary budget. In other words, administration and money are two important factors for progress.
We need Kurds who can manage. There is a problem of budget in Kurdistan because of the circumstances of the region. I am sure there are wealthy people in the region, who can contribute. It is like this in here where charities provide financial support to scientific projects. Or they can be asked to pay tax which can then be given to universities. There are other ways too. UNESCO can support these projects too.
How is the reputation of the Kurds abroad? Are there intelligent Kurdish scholars abroad?
Kurds are more known by the suffering they have endured. Kurds became more known in the world after the war on ISIS. The name ‘Peshmerga’ echoed too. The vice-chancellor of my university often tells me that had it not been due to the Peshmerga, the region would now be controlled by ISIS. But I don’t know of Kurds who might be engaged with science abroad. But I am sure there are some.
There are many talented children and youth in Kurdistan. But they can’t fully realize their potential due to the environment. What do you suggest they should do?
Primary and high school students are very important for society. They can help shape thinking. Developing their capacity is a lot more important than doing so at university levels. Talented ones should be entrusted with running agencies and organizations and the elderly should be consulted for advice on different matters. I suggest they prioritize learning English language which is the key to everything. They can then be in touch with international establishments. In Italy, the four smartest students were selected and provided with the best teachers. If you educate 10 children, they can then run 10 big educational institutes in Kurdistan.