The team’s work has the long-term goal of developing quantum computers, but it has borne fruit that may have more immediate application in medical science. Their finding that a candidate “quantum bit” has great sensitivity to magnetic fields hints that MRI-like devices that can probe individual drug molecules and living cells may be possible.
The candidate system, formed from a nitrogen atom lodged within a diamond crystal, is promising not only because it can sense atomic-scale variations in magnetism, but also because it functions at room temperature. Most other such devices used either in quantum computation or for magnetic sensing must be cooled to nearly absolute zero to operate, making it difficult to place them near live tissue. However, using the nitrogen as a sensor or switch could sidestep that limitation.
Diamond, which is formed of pure carbon, occasionally has minute imperfections within its crystalline lattice. A common impurity is a “nitrogen vacancy”, in which two carbon atoms are replaced by a single atom of nitrogen, leaving the other carbon atom’s space vacant. Nitrogen vacancies are in part responsible for diamond’s famed luster, for they are actually fluorescent: when green light strikes them, the nitrogen atom’s two excitable unpaired electrons glow a brilliant red.
The team can use slight variations in this fluorescence to determine the magnetic spin of a single electron in the nitrogen. Spin is a quantum property that has a value of either “up” or “down,” and therefore could represent one or zero in binary computation. The team’s recent achievement was to transfer this quantum information repeatedly between the nitrogen electron and the nuclei of adjacent carbon atoms, forming a small circuit capable of logic operations. Reading a quantum bit’s spin information—a fundamental task for a quantum computer—has been a daunting challenge, but the team demonstrated that by transferring the information back and forth between the electron and the nuclei, the information could be amplified, making it much easier to read.
Still, NIST theoretical physicist Jacob Taylor said the findings are “evolutionary, not revolutionary” for the quantum computing field and that the medical world may reap practical benefits from the discovery long before a working quantum computer is built. He envisions diamond-tipped sensors performing magnetic resonance tests on individual cells within the body, or on single molecules drug companies want to investigate—a sort of MRI scanner for the microscopic. “That’s commonly thought not to be possible because in both of these cases the magnetic fields are so small,” Taylor says. “But this technique has very low toxicity and can be done at room temperature. It could potentially look inside a single cell and allow us to visualize what’s happening in different spots.”
The Harvard University-based team also includes scientists from the Joint Quantum Institute (a partnership of NIST and the University of Maryland), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University.
* L. Jiang, J.S. Hodges, J.R. Maze, P. Maurer, J.M. Taylor, D.G. Cory, P.R. Hemmer, R.L. Walsworth, A. Yacoby, A.S. Zibrov and M.D. Lukin. Repetitive readout of a single electronic spin via quantum logic with nuclear spin ancillae. Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1176496, published online Sept. 10, 2009.
Chad Boutin | Newswise Science News
Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences