A team of researchers led by the University of Chicago has developed a technique to record the quantum mechanical behavior of an individual electron contained within a nanoscale defect in diamond.
Their technique uses ultrafast pulses of laser light both to control the defect’s entire quantum state and observe how that single electron state changes over time. The work appears in this week’s online Science Express and will be published in print later this month in Science.
Courtesy of Awschalom Lab/University of Chicago
These images show the diamond sample with a hemispherical lens (right and lower left), and the location of a single electron spin/quantum state visible through its light emission (upper left). The scale bar on the image at upper left measures five microns, the approximate diameter of a red blood cell.
This research contributes to the emerging science of quantum information processing, which demands that science leave behind the unambiguous universe of traditional binary logic—0 or 1—and embrace the counterintuitive quantum world, where behavior is radically different from what humans experience every day. While people are generally content being in one place at a time, electrons can be in many states at once.
The team researches a quantum mechanical property of the electron known as spin. Much like conventional computers use the charge state of electrons to constitute bits of information, a quantum computer would use the spin state of a single electron as its quantum bit, or qubit.
The work could accelerate development of quantum computing devices, and the extra computing power that would come with them, because it will be easier to identify materials that have appropriate quantum properties.
The spin system studied is known as the nitrogen-vacancy (NV) center, an atom-sized defect that occurs naturally in diamond, consisting of a nitrogen atom next to a vacant spot in the crystal lattice. “These defects have garnered great interest over the past decade, providing a test-bed system for developing semiconductor quantum bits as well as nanoscale sensors,” said team leader David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering at UChicago. “Here, we were able to harness light to completely control the quantum state of this defect at extremely high speeds.”
In this new technique, the researchers locate a single NV center and then illuminate it with a pair of extremely short pulses of laser light. Each pulse lasts less than a picosecond (or a millionth of a millionth of a second). The first pulse excites the quantum states of the defect-bound electron, which then change or evolve in characteristic ways. The second pulse stops that evolution, capturing a picture of the quantum state at that elapsed time.
By progressively extending the elapsed time between the two pulses, the team creates a sequence of quantum-state snapshots—a movie of how the quantum state changes in time. The elapsed time can be as short as femtoseconds (a billionth of a millionth of a second) or as long as nanoseconds (a thousandth of a millionth of a second). On the human scale, this range of time is like the difference between an hour and a century.
Having this vast range of timescales makes the technique especially valuable. The electron is susceptible and interacts with its complex local environment in many different ways, each with a characteristic timescale. Being able to test a wide range of these timescales gives a far more complete picture of the dynamics of the NV center than has been obtained previously.
“Our goal was to push the limits of quantum control in these remarkable defect systems,” explained Lee Bassett, co-lead author on the paper and now an assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, “but the technique also provides an exciting new measurement tool. By using pulses of light to direct the defect’s quantum dynamics on super-short timescales, we can extract a wealth of information about the defect and its environment.”
“It’s quite a versatile technique, providing a full picture of the excited state of the quantum defect,” said F. Joseph Heremans, a postdoctoral scholar at UChicago, the other co-lead author on the paper. “Previous work on the nitrogen-vacancy center has hinted at some of these processes, but here, simply through the application of these ultrafast pulses, we get a much richer understanding of this quantum beast.”
It’s not just a matter of observation, though. “This technique also provides a means of control of the spin state—an important precursor for any quantum information system,” said Evelyn Hu, a professor of applied physics and electrical engineering at Harvard University, who is not connected with the new work.
In addition, the method is not limited to investigating this particular defect. It could be applied to quantum states of matter in a host of materials and technologies, including many semiconductor materials. “You only have to be able to use light to transfer an electron between a ground state and an excited state,” said Awschalom.
Professor Guido Burkard, theoretical physicist at the University of Konstanz and a co-author on the paper, remarked, “This technique offers a path toward understanding and controlling new materials at the atomic level.”
Hu agrees that the technique opens many new avenues. “Each new system will pose new challenges to understanding the energy levels, local environments, and other properties, but the general approach should provide an enormous step forward for the field,” said Hu.
In addition to researchers from UChicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering, the team included collaborators at the University of California, Santa Barbara (co-lead author Lee Bassett is now at the University of Pennsylvania), and the University of Konstanz, Germany.— Jane Marie Andrew
Citation: “Ultrafast Optical Control of Orbital and Spin Dynamics in a Solid-State Defect,” by Lee C. Bassett, F. Joseph Heremans, David J. Christle, Christopher G. Yale, Guido Burkard, Bob B. Buckley and David D. Awschalom, Science Express, Aug. 14, 2014.
Funding: Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.
Associate News Director
Steve Koppes | newswise
Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy