Tag Archives: spin

Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein

Yale physicists find a new form of quantum friction


Physicists at Yale University have observed a new form of quantum friction that could serve as a basis for robust information storage in quantum computers in the future. The researchers are building upon decades of research, experimentally demonstrating a procedure theorized nearly 30 years ago.

The results appear in the journal Science and are based on work in the lab of Michel Devoret, the F.W. Beinecke Professor of Applied Physics.

Quantum computers, a technology still in development, would rely on the laws of quantum mechanics to solve certain problems exponentially faster than classical computers. They would store information in quantum systems, such as the spin of an electron or the energy levels of an artificial atom. Called “qubits,” these storage units are the quantum equivalent of classical “bits.” But while bits can be in states like 0 or 1, qubits can simultaneously be in the 0 and 1 state. This property is called quantum superposition; it is a powerful resource, but also very fragile. Ensuring the integrity of quantum information is a major challenge of the field.

 Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein
Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein

Zaki Leghtas, first author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at Yale, offered the following metaphor to explain this new form of quantum friction:

Imagine a hill surrounded by two basins. If you put a ball at the top of the hill, it will roll down the sides and settle in one of the basins. As it rolls, it loses energy due to the friction between the ball and the ground, and it slows down. This is why it stops at the bottom of the basin. But friction also causes the ball to leave a path in its wake. By looking at either side of the hill and seeing where grass is flattened and stones are pushed aside, you can tell whether the ball rolled into the right or left basin.

This figure depicts the position of a quantum particle over a time of 19 micro-seconds. Dark colors indicate high probability of the particle existing at the specified position. It is a plot of the time-evolution of the Winger function W (⍺) of the quantum system, with black corresponding to 1.0, white to 0, and blue to –0.05.
This figure depicts the position of a quantum particle over a time of 19 micro-seconds. Dark colors indicate high probability of the particle existing at the specified position. It is a plot of the time-evolution of the Winger function W (⍺) of the quantum system, with black corresponding to 1.0, white to 0, and blue to –0.05.

If you replace the ball with a quantum particle, however, you run into a problem. Quantum particles can exist in many states at the same time, so in theory, the particle could occupy both basins simultaneously. But as the particle is rolling down, the friction between the particle and the hill leaves an impact on the environment, which can be measured. The same friction that stops the particle at the bottom also carves the path. This destroys the superposition and forces the particle to exist in only one basin.

Previously, researchers had been able to take advantage of this friction to trap quantum particles in particular basins. But now, Devoret’s lab demonstrates a new type of friction — one that slows the particle as it rolls, but does not carve a path that tells which side it is choosing. This allows the particle to simultaneously exist in both the left and right basins at the same time.

Each of these “basin” states is both stable and steady. While the quantum particle might move around in the basins, small perturbations won’t kick it out of the basins. Furthermore, any superpositions of these two basin states are also stable and steady. This means they could be used as a basis for storing quantum information.

Technically, this is called a two-dimensional quantum steady-state manifold. Devoret and Leghtas point out that the next step is expanding this two-dimensional manifold to four dimensions — adding two more basins to the landscape. This will allow scientists to redundantly encode quantum information and to do error correction within the manifold. Error correction is one of the key components that must be developed in order to make a practical quantum computer feasible.

Additional authors are Steven Touzard, Ioan Pop, Angela Kou, Brian Vlastakis, Andrei Petrenko, Katrina Sliwa, Anirudh Narla, Shyam Shankar, Michael Hatridge, Matthew Reagor, Luigi Frunzio, Robert Schoelkopf, and Mazyar Mirrahimi of Yale. Mirrahimi also has an appointment at the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique Paris-Rocquencourt.

(Main illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

Source: Yale News

Discrete bands of superconductivity
A diagram depicts unpaired spin up electrons congregating in discrete bands. Credit: Brown University

New evidence for exotic, predicted superconducting state

A research team led by a Brown University physicist has produced new evidence for an exotic superconducting state, first predicted a half-century ago, that can arise when a superconductor is exposed to a strong magnetic field.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Superconductors and magnetic fields do not usually get along. But a research team led by a Brown University physicist has produced new evidence for an exotic superconducting state, first predicted a half-century ago, that can indeed arise when a superconductor is exposed to a strong magnetic field.

“It took 50 years to show that this phenomenon indeed happens,” said Vesna Mitrovic, associate professor of physics at Brown University, who led the work. “We have identified the microscopic nature of this exotic quantum state of matter.”

The research is published in Nature Physics.

Superconductivity — the ability to conduct electric current without resistance — depends on the formation of electron twosomes known as Cooper pairs (named for Leon Cooper, a Brown University physicist who shared the Nobel Prize for identifying the phenomenon). In a normal conductor, electrons rattle around in the structure of the material, which creates resistance. But Cooper pairs move in concert in a way that keeps them from rattling around, enabling them to travel without resistance.

Magnetic fields are the enemy of Cooper pairs. In order to form a pair, electrons must be opposites in a property that physicists refer to as spin. Normally, a superconducting material has a roughly equal number of electrons with each spin, so nearly all electrons have a dance partner. But strong magnetic fields can flip “spin-down” electrons to “spin-up”, making the spin population in the material unequal.

“The question is what happens when we have more electrons with one spin than the other,” Mitrovic said. “What happens with the ones that don’t have pairs? Can we actually form superconducting states that way, and what would that state look like?”

In 1964, physicists predicted that superconductivity could indeed persist in certain kinds of materials amid a magnetic field. The prediction was that the unpaired electrons would gather together in discrete bands or stripes across the superconducting material. Those bands would conduct normally, while the rest of the material would be superconducting. This modulated superconductive state came to be known as the FFLO phase, named for theorists Peter Fulde, Richard Ferrell, Anatoly Larkin, and Yuri Ovchinniko, who predicted its existence.

To investigate the phenomenon, Mitrovic and her team used an organic superconductor with the catchy name κ-(BEDT-TTF)2Cu(NCS)2. The material consists of ultra-thin sheets stacked on top of each other and is exactly the kind of material predicted to exhibit the FFLO state.

Discrete bands of superconductivity A diagram depicts unpaired spin up electrons congregating in discrete bands. Credit: Brown University
Discrete bands of superconductivity
A diagram depicts unpaired spin up electrons congregating in discrete bands. Credit: Brown University

After applying an intense magnetic field to the material, Mitrovic and her collaborators from the French National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Grenoble probed its properties using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

What they found were regions across the material where unpaired, spin-up electrons had congregated. These “polarized” electrons behave, “like little particles constrained in a box,” Mitrovic said, and they form what are known as Andreev bound states.

“What is remarkable about these bound states is that they enable transport of supercurrents through non-superconducting regions,” Mitrovic said. “Thus, the current can travel without resistance throughout the entire material in this special superconducting state.”

Experimentalists have been trying for years to provide solid evidence that the FFLO state exists, but to little avail. Mitrovic and her colleagues took some counterintuitive measures to arrive at their findings. Specifically, they probed their material at a much higher temperature than might be expected for quantum experiments.

“Normally to observe quantum states you want to be as cold as possible, to limit thermal motion,” Mitrovic said. “But by raising the temperature we increased the energy window of our NMR probe to detect the states we were looking for. That was a breakthrough.”

This new understanding of what happens when electron spin populations become unequal could have implications beyond superconductivity, according to Mitrovic.

It might help astrophysicists to understand pulsars — densely packed neutron stars believed to harbor both superconductivity and strong magnetic fields. It could also be relevant to the field of spintronics, devices that operate based on electron spin rather than charge, made of layered ferromagnetic-superconducting structures.

“This really goes beyond the problem of superconductivity,” Mitrovic said. “It has implications for explaining many other things in the universe, such as behavior of dense quarks, particles that make up atomic nuclei.”

This research was  supported  by the French ANR (grant:06-BLAN-0111), the Euro-MagNET II network (EU Contract No. 228043), and the visiting faculty program of Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble.

Source: Brown University

Magnetic states at oxide interfaces controlled by electricity. Top image show magnetic state with -3 volts applied, and bottom image shows nonmagnetic state with 0 volts applied. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

New Discovery Could Pave the Way for Spin-based Computing

Novel oxide-based magnetism follows electrical commands

PITTSBURGH—Electricity and magnetism rule our digital world. Semiconductors process electrical information, while magnetic materials enable long-term data storage. A University of Pittsburgh research team has discovered a way to fuse these two distinct properties in a single material, paving the way for new ultrahigh density storage and computing architectures.

Whilephones and laptops rely on electricity to process and temporarily store information, long-term data storage is still largely achieved via magnetism. Discs coated with magnetic material are locally oriented (e.g. North or South to represent “1” and “0”), and each independent magnet can be used to store a single bit of information. However, this information is not directly coupled to the semiconductors used to process information. Having a magnetic material that can store and process information would enable new forms of hybrid storage and processing capabilities.Such a material has been created by the Pitt research team led by Jeremy Levy, a Distinguished Professor of Condensed Matter Physics in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and director of the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute.

Magnetic states at oxide interfaces controlled by electricity. Top image show magnetic state with -3 volts applied, and bottom image shows nonmagnetic state with 0 volts applied. Credit: University of Pittsburgh
Magnetic states at oxide interfaces controlled by electricity. Top image show magnetic state with -3 volts applied, and bottom image shows nonmagnetic state with 0 volts applied. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

Levy, other researchers at Pitt, and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison today published their work in Nature Communications, elucidating their discovery of a form of magnetism that can be stabilized with electric fields rather than magnetic fields. The University of Wisconsin-Madision researchers were led by Chang-Beom Eom, the Theodore H. Geballe Professor and Harvey D. Spangler Distinguished Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Working with a material formed from a thick layer of one oxide—strontium titanate—and a thin layer of a second material—lanthanum aluminate—these researchers have found that the interface between these materials can exhibit magnetic behavior that is stable at room temperature. The interface is normally conducting, but by “chasing” away the electrons with an applied voltage (equivalent to that of two AA batteries), the material becomes insulating and magnetic. The magnetic properties are detected using “magnetic force microscopy,” an imaging technique that scans a tiny magnet over the material to gauge the relative attraction or repulsion from the magnetic layer.

The newly discovered magnetic properties come on the heels of a previous invention by Levy, so-called “Etch-a-Sketch Nanoelectronics” involving the same material. The discovery of magnetic properties can now be combined with ultra-small transistors, terahertz detectors, and single-electron devices previously demonstrated.

“This work is indeed very promising and may lead to a new type of magnetic storage,” says Stuart Wolf, head of the nanoSTAR Institute at the University of Virginia. Though not an author on this paper, Wolf is widely regarded as a pioneer in the area of spintronics.

“Magnetic materials tend to respond to magnetic fields and are not so sensitive to electrical influences,” Levy says. “What we have discovered is that a new family of oxide-based materials can completely change its behavior based on electrical input.”

This discovery was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Army Research Office.

Source: University of Pittsburgh News