Nav: Home

What a pair! Coupled quantum dots may offer a new way to store quantum information

January 29, 2020

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and their colleagues have for the first time created and imaged a novel pair of quantum dots -- tiny islands of confined electric charge that act like interacting artificial atoms. Such "coupled" quantum dots could serve as a robust quantum bit, or qubit, the fundamental unit of information for a quantum computer. Moreover, the patterns of electric charge in the island can't be fully explained by current models of quantum physics, offering an opportunity to investigate rich new physical phenomena in materials.

Unlike a classical computer, which relies on binary bits that have just one of two fixed values -- "1" or "0" -- to store memory, a quantum computer would store and process information in qubits, which can simultaneously take on a multitude of values. Therefore, they could perform much larger, more complex operations than classical bits and have the potential to revolutionize computing.

Electrons orbit the center of a single quantum dot similar to the way they orbit atoms. The charged particles can only occupy specific permitted energy levels. At each energy level, an electron can occupy a range of possible positions in the dot, tracing out an orbit whose shape is determined by the rules of quantum theory. A pair of coupled quantum dots can share an electron between them, forming a qubit.

To fabricate the quantum dots, the NIST-led team, which included researchers from the University of Maryland NanoCenter and the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, used the ultrasharp tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) as if it were a stylus of an Etch A Sketch. Hovering the tip above an ultracold sheet of graphene (a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern), the researchers briefly increased the voltage of the tip.

The electric field generated by the voltage pulse penetrated through the graphene into an underlying layer of boron nitride, where it stripped electrons from atomic impurities in the layer and created a pileup of electric charge. The pileup corralled freely floating electrons in the graphene, confining them to a tiny energy well.

But when the team applied a magnetic field of 4 to 8 tesla (about 400 to 800 times the strength of a small bar magnet), it dramatically altered the shape and distribution of the orbits that the electrons could occupy. Rather than a single well, the electrons now resided within two sets of concentric, closely spaced rings within the original well separated by a small empty shell. The two sets of rings for the electrons now behaved as if they were weakly coupled quantum dots.

This is the first time that researchers have probed the interior of a coupled quantum dot system so deeply, imaging the distribution of electrons with atomic resolution (see illustration), noted NIST co-author Daniel Walkup. To take high-resolution images and spectra of the system, the team took advantage of a special relationship between the size of a quantum dot and the spacing of the energy levels occupied by the orbiting electrons: The smaller the dot, the greater the spacing, and the easier it is to distinguish between adjacent energy levels.

In a previous quantum dot study using graphene, the team applied a smaller magnetic field and found a structure of rings, resembling a wedding cake, centered on a single quantum dot, which is the origin of the concentric quantum dot rings. By using the STM tip to construct dots about half the diameter (100 nanometers) of dots that they had previously studied, the researchers succeeded in revealing the full structure of the coupled system.

The team, which included Walkup, Fereshte Ghahari, Christopher Gutiérrez and Joseph Stroscio at NIST and the Maryland NanoCenter, describes its findings today in Physical Review B.

The way in which the electrons are shared between the two coupled dots can't be explained by accepted models of quantum dot physics, said Walkup. This puzzle may be important to solve if coupled quantum dots are eventually to be used as qubits in quantum computing, Stroscio noted.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Related Graphene Articles:

How to stack graphene up to four layers
IBS research team reports a novel method to grow multi-layered, single-crystalline graphene with a selected stacking order in a wafer scale.
Graphene-Adsorbate van der Waals bonding memory inspires 'smart' graphene sensors
Electric field modulation of the graphene-adsorbate interaction induces unique van der Waals (vdW) bonding which were previously assumed to be randomized by thermal energy after the electric field is turned off.
Graphene: It is all about the toppings
The way graphene interacts with other materials depends on how these materials are brought into contact with the graphene.
Discovery of graphene switch
Researchers at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) successfully developed the special in-situ transmission electron microscope technique to measure the current-voltage curve of graphene nanoribbon (GNR) with observing the edge structure and found that the electrical conductance of narrow GNRs with a zigzag edge structure abruptly increased above the critical bias voltage, indicating that which they are expected to be applied to switching devices, which are the smallest in the world.
New 'brick' for nanotechnology: Graphene Nanomesh
Researchers at Japan advanced institute of science and technology (JAIST) successfully fabricated suspended graphene nanomesh (GNM) by using the focused helium ion beam technology.
Flatter graphene, faster electrons
Scientists from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the Department of Physics at the University of Basel developed a technique to flatten corrugations in graphene layers.
Graphene Flagship publishes handbook of graphene manufacturing
The EU-funded research project Graphene Flagship has published a comprehensive guide explaining how to produce and process graphene and related materials (GRMs).
How to induce magnetism in graphene
Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechani-cal, electronic and optical properties.
Graphene: The more you bend it, the softer it gets
New research by engineers at the University of Illinois combines atomic-scale experimentation with computer modeling to determine how much energy it takes to bend multilayer graphene -- a question that has eluded scientists since graphene was first isolated.
How do you know it's perfect graphene?
Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory have discovered an indicator that reliably demonstrates a sample's high quality, and it was one that was hiding in plain sight for decades.
More Graphene News and Graphene Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Sound And Silence
Sound surrounds us, from cacophony even to silence. But depending on how we hear, the world can be a different auditory experience for each of us. This hour, TED speakers explore the science of sound. Guests on the show include NPR All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly, neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, writer Rebecca Knill, and sound designer Dallas Taylor.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at