Flawed Diamonds Could Store Quantum Data
Scientists have developed a new way to manipulate atoms inside diamond crystals so that they store information long enough to function as quantum memory, which encodes information not as the 0s and 1s crunched by conventional computers but in states that are both 0 and 1 at the same time. Physicists use such quantum data to send information securely, and hope to eventually build quantum computers capable of solving problems beyond the reach of today’s technology.
For those developing this quantum memory, the perfect diamonds don’t come from Tiffany & Co. — or Harry Winston, for that matter. Impurities are the key to the technology.
“Oddly enough, perfection may not be the way to go,” said David Awschalom of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We want to build in defects.”
One of the most common defects in diamond is nitrogen, which turns the stone yellow. When a nitrogen atom sits next to a vacant spot in the carbon crystal, the intruding element provides an extra electron that moves into the hole. Several years ago, scientists learned how to change the spin of such electrons using microwave energy and put them to work as quantum bits, or qubits.
In search of a more stable way to store quantum information, Awschalom has now figured out how to link the spin of a electron to the spin of the nearby nitrogen’s nucleus. This transfer, triggered by magnetic fields, is fast — about 100 nanoseconds, comparable to how long it takes to store information on a stick of RAM.