The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Scientists curve atoms in fabric of space

New quantum material allows manipulation of electrons within Metal Tech News - April 12, 2023

Throwing a curveball at the scientific community, an international team of researchers headed by the University of Geneva, Switzerland, has designed a quantum material that allows the control of electrons within its structure by essentially curving the fabric of space in which they occupy.

Expanding into the fields of information and communication technologies presents scientists and industry with new hurdles to overcome, especially if they want to breach into the cutting edge. To address these challenges, many are finding that quantum materials, which derive their remarkable characteristics from the bizarre principles of quantum mechanics, are the most promising approach.

An international collaboration led by the University of Geneva, featuring researchers from the Universities of Salerno, Italy, and Utrecht and Delft, Netherlands, have developed a material that allows for the control of electron dynamics by curving the fabric of space in which they evolve.

Essentially, electrons sandwiched between layers of lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate, the scientists could essentially "squish" the space in which the electrons inhabit, causing their output to basically bend.

This advancement holds promise for future electronic devices, particularly in the field of optoelectronics.

At this point in time, telecommunications have all but been hashed out. While arguments over connectivity and infrastructure still exist, the fundamental technology is well established.

Telecommunications of the future will require new, extremely powerful electronic devices. And if we ever want to expand out of the atmosphere and into the cosmos, these new devices must be capable of processing electromagnetic signals at unprecedented speeds – in the picosecond range, i.e., one-thousandth of a billionth of a second.

This is unthinkable with current semiconductor materials, such as silicon, which is widely used in the electronic components of our telephones, computers, and gaming consoles. To breach into the leading edge, researchers are focusing on the design of new quantum materials.

Due to their unique properties, quantum materials could be used to capture, manipulate, and transmit information-carrying signals within new electronic devices. Moreover, molecules within quantum materials can operate in electromagnetic frequency ranges that have not yet been explored and would thus open the way to very high-speed communication systems.

The cat is and isn't

"One of the most fascinating properties of quantum matter is that electrons can evolve in a curved space," said Andrea Caviglia, full professor at the Department of Quantum Matter Physics in the Faculty of Science at Geneva University. "The force fields, due to this distortion of the space inhabited by the electrons, generate dynamics totally absent in conventional materials. This is an outstanding application of the principle of quantum superposition."

Crash course, the presiding example of quantum superposition is Schrödinger's cat. Originally a thought experiment to give an example of the paradox of this study, it was used to illustrate the simplest way to understand its principles.

The thought experiment goes as thus, Schrödinger stated that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat in a box and seal it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you open the box. So theoretically, until the box was opened, the cat was both dead and alive.

This can then be translated to quantum mechanics; in the case of superposition, it is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured.

After an initial theoretical study, the international team designed a material in which the curvature of the fabric of space is controllable.

"We have designed an interface hosting an extremely thin layer of free electrons," said Carmine Ortix, professor at the University of Salerno. "It is sandwiched between strontium titanate and lanthanum aluminate, which are two insulating oxides. This combination allows us to obtain particular electronic geometrical configurations which can be controlled on-demand."

Molecular design

To achieve this incredible feat, the research team used an advanced system for fabricating materials on an atomic scale. Using laser pulses, each layer of atoms was stacked one after the other.

"This method allowed us to create special combinations of atoms in space that affect the behavior of the material," the researchers explained.

While the prospect of technological use is still far off, this new material opens up new avenues in the exploration of very high-speed electromagnetic signal manipulation.

These results can also be used to develop new sensor technology.

Ultimately the next step for the research team will be to further observe how this material reacts to high electromagnetic frequencies to determine more precisely its potential applications.

So, for now, we will have to settle on waiting the milliseconds it takes to make a phone call or browse the web, as opposed to the picoseconds it could become.


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