Researchers Accidentally Discover Quantum “Etch A Sketch”

by Kathy S. on October 21, 2015

Researchers Accidentally Discover Quantum Etch A SketchWhen researchers from the University of Chicago and Penn State University turned on the lights in the lab they were working, they discovered an optical effect that is likely to further new developments in emerging technologies. They found that the lab’s room lights emitted at a wavelength that changed the electronic properties of the materials they were studying.

Quite by chance, the scientists discovered a new way of using light to draw and erase quantum-mechanical circuits like a high tech Etch A Sketch. Using topological insulators, a type of material with rare quantum properties, the researchers “tuned” the energy of their electrons using light without having to touch the materials. This is significant because the materials are fragile, and traditional semiconductor engineering techniques tend to destroy their quantum properties.

The electrons in the insulators are believed to be useful in the development of spin-based electronics and quantum computers. For the first time, researchers were able to draw and erase p-n junctions, one of the central components of a transistor, in a topological insulator. The work should be applicable to a wide range of nanoscale materials, including complex oxides, graphene and transition metal dichalcogenides.

Instead of spending weeks in the cleanroom and potentially contaminating materials, researchers can now sketch and measure devices for experiments in real time and just erase it when they’re done.

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