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By Delaney Beem | Aug 17, 2018
These aren't just some sci-fi gems. Quantum diamonds may hold the properties necessary to construct such technological advancements as the quantum internet.
While commonly known as the gemstone of romance, diamonds have some amazing uses outside being a lasting token of love.
As the hardest natural substance diamond's atomic structure is one of the most tightly bonded due to the intense pressure needed to transform carbon into its crystalline structure. Scientists have long used diamonds in experiments or for creating unbreakable cutting tools. Since the mid-2000’s quantum physicists have upped the ante with experiments finding that diamonds may also be useful in creating quantum systems. Quantum physics can be overwhelming with strange rules and theories, but, simply put, quantum mechanics is the use of mathematical descriptions to explain the motion and interaction of subatomic particles. Quantum physics transcends what a human can experience without the help of instruments and experiments, so "quantum diamonds" might seem like a buzz term but it identifies that these gems have extremely particular properties on an atomic level.
The atomic structure of a diamond is a lattice shape, where each carbon atom bonds to four neighboring carbon atoms. While diamonds are made of carbon, most have impurities which often result in colored stones. These impurities occur on average in diamonds 1 per every 1000 carbon atoms. There is one incredibly rare specimen which has impurities on an average of 1 per every billion, scientists call this sample the ‘magic Russian’ diamond.
Using this magic diamond as a base to have more controlled experiments, researchers found they could replace some of the carbon atoms with other elements and change the quantum properties of the gem.
Initial experiments exchanged carbon atoms for nitrogen, creating what's called nitrogen vacancy centers. While these nitrogen vacancy diamonds have a long lifetime they have poor optical properties. Scientists then replaced carbon for silicon atoms to create a silicon-vacancy diamond (SiV0) whose astounding optical properties and long lifetime-- due to engineers finding a way to stabilize the neutral charge state --which is thought to be a key component in the creation of a quantum computers and other systems.
Authors of a recent study, led by Nathalie de Leon an assistant professor at Princeton, published in Science, wrote;
“Engineering coherent systems is a central goal of quantum science. Color centers in diamond are a promising approach, with the potential to combine the coherence of atoms with the scalability of a solid-state platform. We report a color center that shows insensitivity to environmental decoherence caused by phonons and electric field noise: the neutral charge state of silicon vacancy (SiV0)...We show that through careful materials engineering, we are able to uncover highly coherent optical and spin properties of SiV0….. These combined properties make SiV0 a promising defect for quantum network applications.”
Spin is a very fragile quantum state that is the key property scientists will need to control and read out for quantum computing. With the use of lasers to manipulate the diamonds structure and create impurities it can then function as transistors for a computer(known as quibids in quantum computers). These impurities would, theoretically, interact to execute a primitive algorithm exchanging quantum information, such as spin and polarization, all encoded and protected by a tight cage of carbon particles. As gems can be lab grown to particular qualities, these quantum diamonds can be made with purer levels of carbon and then sent out to other institutions who create the specific impurities. These laboratories usually change the color of stones by creating similar impurities through shooting lasers into diamonds which will be made into jewelry, but in this case they create the prized silicon vacancy diamonds from the extremely pure carbon diamonds.
Element 6, a company owned by De Beers, currently holds a near monopoly on the lab creation of these quantum grade diamonds as they have been manufacturing them with great precision since 2007. A Harvard lab has started their own company to further the development of diamond based imaging devices to use in the medical field called Quantum Diamond Technologies. Eventually, researchers hope that diamond based quantum imaging can be used to map the human brain neuron by neuron, a level of detail that the modern tools of neuroscience has yet to achieve.
Crafted by Infinity and High Performance Diamonds are used to seeing such high levels of precision and care being taken to transform diamonds from simple to aesthetically brilliant, and is excited to see the scientific marvels physicists are creating with diamonds using similarly high levels of precision and care.