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
Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time
17.10.2017 | University of Maryland
Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging
17.10.2017 | American Association for the Advancement of Science
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
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17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
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