UChicago team discovers innovative way to tune quantum signals

After decades of miniaturization, the electronic components we’ve relied on for computers and modern technologies are now starting to reach fundamental limits. Faced with this challenge, engineers and scientists around the world are turning toward a radically new paradigm: quantum information technologies.

Quantum technology, which harnesses the strange rules that govern particles at the atomic level, is normally thought of as much too delicate to coexist with the electronics we use every day in phones, laptops and cars. However, scientists with the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering announced a significant breakthrough: Quantum states can be integrated and controlled in commonly used electronic devices made from silicon carbide.

“The ability to create and control high-performance quantum bits in commercial electronics was a surprise,” said lead investigator David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering at UChicago and a pioneer in quantum technology. “These discoveries have changed the way we think about developing quantum technologies—perhaps we can find a way to use today’s electronics to build quantum devices.”

In two papers published in Science and Science Advances, Awschalom’s group demonstrated they could electrically control quantum states embedded in silicon carbide. The breakthrough could offer a means to more easily design and build quantum electronics—in contrast to using exotic materials scientists usually need to use for quantum experiments, such as superconducting metals, levitated atoms or diamonds.

These quantum states in silicon carbide have the added benefit of emitting single particles of light with a wavelength near the telecommunications band. “This makes them well suited to long-distance transmission through the same fiber-optic network that already transports 90% of all international data worldwide,” said Awschalom, senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

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Image: (From left) graduate students Kevin Miao, Chris Anderson, and Alexandre Bourassa monitor quantum experiments at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. Photo by David Awschalom.