Jul 22, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Virus-sized Levitating Diamonds Could Be Two Places At Once

Physicists at Purdue University have created nanodiamond particles that could pave the way for incredible breakthroughs in quantum mechanics research. The virus-sized diamond particles are part of larger experiments to learn how to control the spins of individual electrons, which could allow for quantum computing on the atomic scale.

Nanodiamonds have a width of 1 nanometer or below.

The researchers behind this experiment have published their results in Nature Communications. According to the scientists in this study, these nanodiamonds provide a new technique at controlling the spin of electrons that could lead to further breakthroughs:

Electron spins of diamond nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres are important quantum resources for nanoscale sensing and quantum information. Combining NV spins with levitated optomechanical resonators will provide a hybrid quantum system for novel applications. [...] Our results pave the way towards a levitated spin–optomechanical system for studying macroscopic quantum mechanics.

The tiny diamond particles were suspended inside of a vacuum chamber to reduce interference from ambient air. A high-powered laser was then fired at the nanodiamond, suspending it in mid-air using only the photons of the laser beam. A specialized microwave antenna is then used to control, or ‘spin,’ the electrons inside the nanodiamond.

The vacuum chamber in which the nanodiamonds are levitated.

Purdue physics professor Tongcang Li stated in a press release that the ultimate goal of these experiments is to be able to test some of the larger unexplained mysteries of quantum physics, such as solving the infamous Schrödinger's cat thought experiment:

We've shown how to continuously flip the electron spin in a nanodiamond levitated in a vacuum [...] We want to put a single nanodiamond at two different locations at the same time


Subatomic particles such as electrons are in a constant state of “spin,” with each type of particle possessing its own spin velocity and direction. Electrons exist in one of two spin states, either “up” or “down.” In each state, the energy given off by the spin differs as the electron interacts with other molecules, such as oxygen molecules.

Creating diamond particles that can exist in two states at once could pave the way to finally test if that damned cat is alive or dead already.

By controlling the spin of electrons, scientists can theoretically test some of the most advanced experiments in quantum mechanics while also enabling the creation sensors or circuits which can be controlled down to the atomic level.

This level of precision could result in sensors or encryption techniques of a sophistication not yet seen in the computing world. Quantum computing is widely recognized as the next oncoming revolution in computing technology, enabling processing power on a scale as yet unimaginable.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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