Taking measurements on the scale of a single molecule using quantum technology is expected to bring huge advances in a wide range of fields including computing and medical science. SQUTEC (Solid State Quantum Technology and Metrology Using Spins), an EU-funded project, is taking this closer to reality by exploiting a diamond defect and its magnetic spin properties. The project has already established links with the computing industry. ‘Modern computing using current techniques has reached its limit in terms of miniaturisation and optimal speeds, the next leap is quantum technology,’ explained Professor Jörg Wrachtrup, from the University of Stuttgart who received an Advanced grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for the SQUTEC project. ‘This is a new way to do computing. We are showing that these defects in diamonds – or magnetic moments – could be used in quantum computing,’ he elaborated. ‘Unexpectedly, during the process, we discovered that these diamond defects were outstandingly good. They were very sensitive to magnetic fields, electronic fields, temperatures and pressures,’ he added. The project is cooperating with the hard disc drive industry, but the technology can also be applied to molecular and cell biology. ‘We can advance medical imaging for improving neurology and tumour sensing,’ Prof. Wrachtrup outlined. The project aimed to develop complex single spin systems from the diamond defects. These systems can be used to investigate fundamental physical properties such as the quantumness of solid state spins and their use in sensory devices. Pioneering technology SQUTEC has already built a prototype machine. ‘The next step is taking it to a production-line quality control tool. Hard drive and electronic developments tested by this technology could be on the market in two to three years,’ Prof. Wrachtrup further explained. The technology developed by SQUTEC is the first of its kind. ‘This is the first quantum sensor operating under ambient conditions. Before this, there was no sensor with nanoscale resolution. Our devices might have a revolutionary impact on imaging applications from investigating materials to bioscience. This is an entirely new research field,’ he added. One of the biggest advantages of the technology is that it allows quantum sensing under ambient conditions. ‘It is much cheaper and versatile to operate devices if they don’t need conditions like very low temperatures or vacuums,’ continued Prof. Wrachtrup. Existing technology, such as SQUID, is very successful on the millimetre or microscale, but it also requires very cold conditions. This technology operates at normal temperatures and can take measurements right down to the nanometre. The EU isn’t the only region advancing this field. Others such as the US, Australia and China are also at the proof of concept state. However, ‘interest from the industry is strong - industry is trying to make this happen,’ concluded Prof. Wrachtrup. The SQUTEC project was completed in February 2016.
SQUTEC, quantum technology, single spin systems, diamond defect, bioscience, computing, nanoscale resolution, SQUID