Physicists Find New Way to Store Quantum Information in Impure Diamonds

By Valerie Ross | March 28, 2011 4:39 pm

What’s the News: Physicists have worked out a new method of storing information in the quantum states of atoms in diamond crystals. The scientists linked the spin of individual nitrogen atoms in the diamond—impurities at the jewelry counter, but boons in the physics lab—to the spin of nearby electrons. They could form a quantum link between the spin of the nitrogen atom and the spin of a nearby electron, letting the electron store information more stably than if it were spinning on its own.

How the Heck:

  • When a nitrogen is next to an empty spot in a diamond’s carbon framework, it lets off an extra electron, leaving that electron free to have its quantum played around with.
  • Using what they call “intense microwave fields” [PDF], the physicists were able to link the spin of a nitrogen atom to a neighboring electron, a pairing sparked by magnetic fields.

What’s the Context:

  • Scientists have been looking at diamonds—with and without nitrogen impurities—as a quantum computing material for several years, in part because it can store quantum memory at room temperature, not the far-below-freezing temps required by some other materials.
  • Some have even proposed the idea of diamond supercomputers, which would store millions of times as much data as today’s machines.
  • One hurdle in quantum computing is getting the information to last long enough to use it. In the recent study, the nuclear spin stayed coherent for more than a millisecond—enough time for a ten petaflop supercomputer to do ten trillion operations.

Not so Fast:

  • Don’t start rooting around in your hard drive for a rock just yet; diamond-based quantum computing is still a long way off.

Reference: “Quantum control and nanoscale placement of single spins in diamond.” David D. Awschalom, invited talk, American Physical Society March Meeting 2011

Image: Flickr / Swamibu

  • Georg

    They could form a quantum link between the spin of the nitrogen atom

    That is the spin of the nitrogen nucleus, not atom!

  • nate

    This is a very good article on quantum computing. Papers reporting advances are pretty common nowadays, but its always difficult to ascertain what’s really going on, and the significance of the discovery. KISS

  • Robbie

    Typo detected! KILL IT!!!!

    “When a nitrogen is next to an empty spot…”
    I don’t think “a nitrogen” is a single object, maybe nitrogen atom?

  • Sara Stark

    Holy crap, this is amazing!!

  • IanW

    This gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘hard drive’ doesn’t it?!

  • Brian Too

    I’d be very cautious about the practicalities of such a device. The basic materials research is wonderful and that’s all to the good of course.

    However they are taking a very novel approach to data storage. Most novel approaches never make it to any kind of commercial reality.

    Then they add on the quantum computing angle and this too is still profoundly experimental. Fascinating to think about and tremendous potential, but literally another world beyond conventional computing.

    And diamonds! Why did it have to be diamonds?! Be prepared for the Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton jokes. Also if the technique can be scaled down to use microscopic diamonds then maybe costs can be controlled. However for macroscopic diamonds, what does that do to the cost envelope?

  • pajama jeans

    Wow, technology never ceases to amaze me.

  • Remember

    Lol brian you must factor in many variables before you come to such a solid conclusion, you must be forgetting diamonds can be created in various ways and im sure when a technique like this becomes more refined people will find more use for those diamonds around t their necks 😉


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