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Spinning electrons research could enhance AF computers

by Maria Callier
Air Force Office of Scientific Research

7/10/2008 - ARLINGTON, Va. (AFPN) -- Scientists funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research have used a single photon technique to observe the evolution of individual electron spins in semiconductor nanostructures.

Their work has already contributed to the new field of semiconductor spintronics - an emerging technology which exploits the spin of electrons that makes them perform like tiny magnets. By using spintronics in quantum computing, scientists will be able to control electrons and create higher speed technologies that are impossible in present-day electronic equipment.

Dr. David Awschalom, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is coordinating the research. He and his team are exploring the benefits of electronic devices using spintronics to power quantum computers made of diamond.

"This technology may allow the Air Force to reduce electronic power consumption by creating low-power electronic devices capable of massive improvements in processing speeds, and increasing storage densities by orders of magnitude" Doctor Awschalom said.

Researchers have found that diamond is an electrical insulator, but when combined with other elements, it can become a semiconductor with formidable properties for computers and solid-state, microwave electronics. Scientists' newfound ability to grow a nanometer-to-micron sized synthetic diamond is enhancing the field of semiconductor spintronics and quantum information processing.

"Given these unexpected discoveries, we have many exciting opportunities and research challenges ahead of us," Doctor Awschalom said. "We need to learn how to engineer new quantum spin circuits that will require the precise placement of atoms into diamond at predetermined locations. We also need to learn how to 'wire' the spins together, and in doing so exploit their quantum mechanical properties for novel information processing and secure communication."

Doctor Awschalom said he believes the greatest impact of a future quantum computer will lie in its unique capability to simulate other quantum systems, which is something current computers are unable to do.

"Quantum simulations will be required to understand and predict the behavior of matter at the nanometer scale and could therefore bring huge advances in physics, chemistry, materials science and biology," Doctor Awschalom said.

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