May 30, 2020

Manufacturing-friendly SiC boasts quantum credentials at telecom wavelengths

Posted by in categories: particle physics, quantum physics, security

Decoherence is the bane of quantum technologies. In coherent systems, the phase of the wave functions representing the quantum states of particles in the system have definite relations between each other. This allows quantum devices to operate in a meaningful way that differs from classical devices. However, interacting with the world around us rapidly leads to decoherence, which makes it harder to exploit quantum effects for enhancing computation efficiency or communication security. Research has shown that quantum systems with impressively long coherence times are possible in diamond, but diamond is far from the favorite for manufacturers. Now, researchers at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei and Wuhan University in China have demonstrated SiC can boast some of the quantum merits of diamond with the additional advantage of optical control at the wavelengths used by the telecommunications industry.

The defects prized for quantum technologies are nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers, in which a carbon atom in diamond is replaced by a nitrogen with a missing carbon at the neighboring crystal lattice site. What makes this kind of defect interesting for quantum technologies is that you can control its states with light and produce photon-spin entanglement with long coherence times, even at room temperature. The difficulties arise when trying to position the technology in the real world as opposed to the lab. The photon-spin interactions for NV centers in diamond need light at visible wavelengths—telecommunications wavelengths are much longer. In addition, these finely engineered devices need to be hacked out of one of the hardest (and most expensive) materials known to man, one that industry does not have established nanofabrication protocols for.

It turns out there are types of defects in SiC that might also be useful for quantum technologies. SiC is widely used in power electronics, so commercially viable avenues for producing SiC devices already exist. Over the past 10 years, vacancies and divacancies (where one or a pair of atoms in the lattice are absent) in SiC began to attract interest when researchers learned that they could also control their spin states with light at room temperature with long coherence times. The observation of NV centers in SiC really piqued interest, as these were optically active at the wavelengths used by the telecommunications industry as opposed to the shorter visible wavelengths needed to control the spin states of vacancies and divacancies in SiC.

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