One-Stop Shop for Quantum Detection Materials

Scientists create a platform for quantum technology.

The brilliant blue of the Hope Diamond is caused by small impurities in the crystal structure. Similar diamond impurities also give hope to scientists looking to create materials that can be used for: quantum computer and quantum detection.

In new research from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, researchers have created extremely thin membranes of pure diamond. However, at a few locations in the membrane’s crystal structure, the team has replaced carbon atoms with other atoms, most notably nitrogen. These defects connect to adjacent atomic vacancies — regions where an atom is missing — creating unusual quantum systems known as “color centers.” Such color centers are locations for storing and processing quantum information.

“…we hope this [platform] will eventually give us the opportunity to become a one-stop shop for quantum sensing materials.” — Xinghan Guo, University of Chicago

This work was supported primarily by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering division, with support from Q-NEXT, a DOE National Quantum Information Science Research Center led by Argonne.

Equipped with a way to cheaply and easily make diamond membranes with robust color centers, Argonne scientists hope to build some sort of assembly line to generate large numbers of these membranes for quantum experiments around the world.

The ability to grow the membranes could be the ticket to improving collaboration between different labs dedicated to quantum information science, said University of Chicago student Xinghan Guo, lead author of the study.

“Essentially, we hope this will eventually give us the opportunity to become a one-stop shop for quantum sensing materials,” Guo said.

“The defects in the diamond are of interest to us because they can be exploited for quantum application,” said Nazar Delegan, a scientist in Argonne’s Materials Science division and the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago and an associate of Q- NEXT. “By making these membranes, we can integrate these defects with other systems and enable new experimental configurations.”

Diamond is mechanically hard, chemically stable and generally expensive – in other words, it’s kind of a scientific nightmare, notoriously difficult to fabricate and integrate. At the same time, diamond’s specific structure makes it a great host for color centers that can store quantum information for a long time, Guo said.

“Conventional diamond as a substrate is super hard to work with,” he said. “Our membranes are thinner and more accessible for a wide variety of experiments.”

The new diamond material created by the researchers offers better crystal and surface quality, allowing greater control over the coherence of the color centers.

“You can remove the membrane and apply it to all kinds of substrates, even a silicon wafer. It’s a cheap, flexible and easy way to work with color centers without having to work directly with conventional diamonds,” said Guo.

“Because we can control and preserve the quantum properties in individual defects in these very thin materials, this makes this platform very promising as a foundation for quantum technologies,” Delegan said.

A paper based on the study “Tunable and transferable diamond membranes for integrated quantum technologies” appeared in the December 13, 2021 online edition of Nano letters† In addition to Delegan and Guo, other authors of the study are Jonathan Karsch, Zixi Li, Tinale Liu, Robert Shreiner, Amy Butcher, David Awschalom, F. Joseph Heremans, and Alexander A. High.

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