Physicists design 2-D materials that conduct electricity at almost the speed of light

Quantum computing

UCI physicist Jing Xia (right, with graduate student Alex Stern) calls the fiber-optic Sagnac interferometer he built the most sensitive magnetic microscope in the world. He compares it to a telescope that an ornithologist in Irvine could use to inspect the eye of a bird in New York. Credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

Physicists at the University of California, Irvine and elsewhere have fabricated new two-dimensional quantum materials with breakthrough electrical and magnetic attributes that could make them building blocks of future quantum computers and other advanced electronics.

In three separate studies appearing this month in Nature, Science Advances and Nature Materials, UCI researchers and colleagues from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Princeton University, Fudan University and the University of Maryland explored the physics behind the 2-D states of novel materials and determined they could push computers to new heights of speed and power.

The common threads running through the papers are that the research is conducted at extremely cold temperatures and that the signal carriers in all three studies are not electrons – as with traditional silicon-based technologies – but Dirac or Majorana fermions, particles without mass that move at nearly the speed of light.

“Finally, we can take exotic, high-end theories in physics and make something useful,” said UCI associate professor of physics & astronomy Jing Xia, a corresponding author on two of the studies. “We’re exploring the possibility of making topological quantum computers [currently theoretical] for the next 100 years.”

One of the key challenges of such research is handling and analyzing miniscule material samples, just two atoms thick, several microns long and a few microns across. Xia’s lab at UCI is equipped with a fiber-optic Sagnac interferometer microscope that he built. (The only other one in existence is at Stanford University, assembled by Xia when he was a graduate student there.) Calling it the most sensitive magnetic microscope in the world, Xia compares it to a telescope that an ornithologist in Irvine could use to inspect the eye of a bird in New York.

“This machine is the ideal measurement tool for these discoveries,” said UCI graduate student Alex Stern, lead author on two of the papers. “It’s the most accurate way to optically measure magnetism in a material.”



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