Physicists at UC Santa Barbara have succeeded in combining laser light with trapped electrons to detect and control the electrons’ fragile quantum state without erasing it. This is an important step toward using quantum physics to expand computing power and to communicate over long distances without the possibility of eavesdropping.
Using electrons trapped in a single atom-sized defect within a thin crystal of diamond, combined with laser light of precisely the right color, the scientists showed that it was possible to briefly form a mixture of light and matter. After forming this light-matter mixture, they were able to use measurements of the light to determine the state of the electrons.
Likewise, by separately examining the electrons, they showed that the electron configuration was not destroyed by the light. Instead, it was modified –– a dramatic demonstration of control over quantum states using light. “Manipulating the quantum state of a single electron in a semiconductor without destroying the information represents an extremely exciting scientific development with potential technological impact,” said Awschalom.
Preserving quantum states is a major obstacle in the nascent field of quantum computing. One benefit of quantum information is that it can never be copied, unlike information transferred between today’s computers, providing a measure of security that is safeguarded by fundamental laws of nature. The ability to measure a quantum state without destroying it is an important step in the development of technologies that harness the advantages of the quantum world.
Buckley, putting this research in perspective, said: “Diamond may someday become for a quantum computer what silicon is for digital computers today –– the building blocks of logic, memory, and communication. Our experiment provides a new tool to make that happen
The exceptional spin coherence of nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond motivates their use in emerging quantum technologies. Traditionally, the spin state of individual centers is measured optically and destructively. We demonstrate dispersive, single-spin coupling to light for both non-destructive spin measurement through the Faraday effect and coherent spin manipulation through the optical Stark effect. These interactions can enable the coherent exchange of quantum information between single nitrogen-vacancy spins and light, facilitating coherent measurement, control, and entanglement that is scalable over large distances