German researchers push for spintronic readout
August 17, 2012 // Nick Flaherty
Researchers in Germany have read out the quantum state of an atom directly by using electrodes for the first time, a key step to building quantum computers using spintronics.
“Normally, every contact with the outer world changes information in a quantum mechanical system in a completely uncontrolled manner,” said Professor Mario Ruben from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) who was working with partners from Grenoble and Strasbourg. “We therefore have to keep the quantum state stable and shielded. On the other hand, information has to be read out in a controlled manner for further use.”
Magnetic molecule complexes may be a solution of this dilemma. In their center, a metal atom with a pronounced magnetic moment, a spin, is located. It is surrounded by organic molecules that shield the atom. “When synthesizing this protective enclosure, we can exactly define how much the metal atom sees of the outer world,” said Ruben the
The study is based on the metal atom terbium that was provided with an enclosure of about 100 carbon, nitrogen, and water atoms and then placed in the center of nanometer-sized, electric gold contacts. Due to the properties of the molecule, the electrodes had an effect similar to the three channels of a transistor. Electric voltage of the middle gate electrode influenced the current through the other two electrodes. In this way, the working point was set. Then, the molecule was exposed to various changing magnetic fields and the jump of the spin was reflected by the amplitude of the current curve. “By measuring current flow, we found that the nuclear spin of the metal atom is stable for up to 20 seconds,” says Ruben. “For quantum mechanical processes, this is a very long time.”
Ruben is sure that “the results will be of particular importance to spintronics and quantum computing.” Spintronics uses the magnetic spin of single particles for information processing, combining spin and electronics. Quantum computers use quantum mechanical effects, such as the entanglement and super-position of spins, for the parallel execution of algorithms at high speed.
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