UTS Scientists find diamond in the rough with quantum discovery

Dr Igor Aharonovich, picture by Lisa Aloisio

Dr Igor Aharonovich, picture by Lisa Aloisio

In summary: 
  • Working with scientists from Harvard and Iowa universities, UTS researchers have synthesised a new type of diamond crystal that could be the next step towards quantum computing
  • UTS's Dr Igor Aharonovich and PhD candidate Toby Shanley have discovered a new approach to incorporate rare earth ions into a diamond crystal, a promising candidate for data storage at the molecular scale

Unthinkably fast computing, colossal data storage capabilities, completely secure online communication and limitless connectivity. All these things could now be just a few short years away.

Breakthrough research in the burgeoning field of quantum electronics has catapulted two UTS Physics academics into the pages of Nature Communications journal.

Alongside a team of scientists from Harvard University and the University of Iowa in the United States, UTS Physics ARC DECRA Fellow Dr Igor Aharonovich and UTS PhD candidate Toby Shanley discovered a new approach to incorporate lanthanides, or rare earth ions, into a diamond crystal.

An innovative and increasingly important aspect of nanotechnology, quantum computing, involves writing, storing and readout of huge quantities of data in what are referred to as the 'spin states' of electrons – the angular momentum inherent to each electron.

In this regard, the lanthanides offer a fantastic platform for information storage – offering long coherence times of several minutes using their nuclear spin. 

Aharonovich and the research team were able to develop an innovative technique that incorporates rare earth ions into the growing diamond crystal through diffusion of elements during the synthesis.

"One of the most exciting things about this work for me is the broad applicability of the technique we have developed," Dr Aharonovich said.

An artistic impression of a europium defect in a diamond crystal excited with a violet light. The emitted spectrum is highlighted in the box An artistic impression of a europium defect in a diamond crystal excited with a violet light. The emitted spectrum is highlighted in the box

"While we demonstrate incorporating europium inside diamonds, this technique should be applicable to all of the lanthanides and many other metal ions – potentially leading to a whole new class of diamond materials with unique new properties to explore and characterise."

Spin states long enough to sustain quantum memory have hitherto only been possible in cryogenic environments and Dr Aharonovich said the findings of the report were likely to be the beginning of intensive further investigation into lanthanides for quantum computation.

"From a synthetic standpoint of view, this work is inventive because we have drawn materials synthesis and assembly techniques from different areas of chemistry and materials science to make the incorporation of lanthanides into the diamond possible,"  said lead author, Harvard University's Dr Andrew Magyar.

"Rare earth magnetics have revolutionized the alternative energy industry as critical components in electric motors for hybrid vehicles and wind turbines.  Through the incorporation of rare earth ions into a diamond matrix we hope to in the future harness the unique magnetic properties of these materials for applications in quantum information.

"Rare earth ions are very promising candidates for quantum memories, but the tricky bit is to bring them to the solid state. It's very early but it's the first step," Dr Magyar said.

The article, Synthesis of luminescent europium defects in diamond, (DOI 10.1038/ncomms4523) is published by Nature Communications.