The probe head used to send pulses and control atomic spins onto the semiconductor gallium arsenide, the same chip used in cell phones. (Photo : Yunpu Li)
Scientists have taken another step into the world of quantum computing by finding a way to create rewritable computer chips out of an atom's nucleus. By using a beam of laser light, researchers from The City College of New York (CCNY) and the University of California Berkeley (UCB) have figured out how to control the spin of an atom's nucleus and electrons so that they can encode information.
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The findings could help create computers with vastly greater computing powers.
The major improvement comes from the fact that the atom's spin can be realigned at any point, meaning that it essentially a rewriteable chip that could be reprogrammed for a variety of tasks on the fly. In contrast, current chips have electronic patterns or "highways" etched into a semiconductor.
"Once the chip is printed, it can only be used one way," explained Dr. Jeffrey Reimer, a study co-author.
These spintronic circuits can be many times more powerful than existing chips. Current chips work through the binary system, meaning it only uses 0's and 1's to store information. A spintronic circuit, on the other hand, can store information in 0's, 1's, and everything in between, opening up far more bits and processing power. Not only would it increase functionality, it would also mean the chip can run multiple processes at once.
Controlling the spins of atoms has been tough for scientists since the electrons seem to switch rotations back and forth rapidly. The joint CCNY-UCB team used a laser light as a magnet, and oriented the beam of light to stabilize the spins of the electrons.
"What you could have is a chip you can erase and rewrite on the fly with just the use of a light beam," said Professor Meriles.
"If you can actually rewrite with a beam of light and alter this pattern, you can make the circuit morph to adapt to different requirements. Imagine what you can make a system like that do for you!" he added enthusiastically.