Boffins slap quantum dots on diamonds to create mutant nanomaterials

Doping everything really quickly, dude

Researchers have found a new way to speed up the process of doping nanomaterials by adding quantum dots to tiny diamonds, which could advance electronics and quantum computing in the future, according to a paper published in Nature Communications.

Nanomaterials have properties that are useful in electronics. Electrons travel faster through semiconductor nanomaterials, making them a good candidate for future microchips that are faster and more energy efficient.

The electronic properties of nanomaterials are manipulated by adding impurities called dopants. The doping process, however, is slow and expensive. But with the help of nanodiamonds, researchers from the University of Maryland have figured out a way to improve the doping process by creating a new diamond-based hybrid nanomaterial.

Pure diamonds are rare, expensive, and have a rigid structure made out of carbon atoms. To make the doping process cheaper, researchers artificially produced the diamonds and inserted nitrogen atoms inside. The nitrogen is an impurity, breaking up the diamond’s perfect carbon structure. It replaces one carbon atom in that structure with a nitrogen atom, and leaves an empty space where another carbon would normally be – also known as a nitrogen vacancy.

By attaching other materials to the artificial diamonds, such as metal particles or tiny semiconductors known as “quantum dots”, the researchers can create hybrid nanomaterials that can be customised to have the desired electronic properties.

"Our key innovation is that we can now reliably and efficiently produce these freestanding hybrid particles in large numbers," explained Min Ouyang, associate professor at the University of Maryland and senior author of the study.

Matthew Doty, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Delaware who was not involved with the study, is hopeful that this technique will be useful for electronics.

“I expect that this advance will enable a number of new approaches for sensing and diagnostic technologies," he said.

The nitrogen vacancy also exhibits quantum properties which could allow it to behave as a qubit, at room temperature, according to Ouyang. Qubits are used in quantum computers to perform calculations. A room temperature qubit would significantly advance quantum computing as most qubits need to be cooled to ultra-cold temperatures before they can be studied.

"A major strength of our technique is that it is broadly useful and can be applied to a variety of diamond types and paired with a variety of other nanomaterials," Ouyang explained. But said that “the potential for room-temperature quantum entanglement is particularly exciting and important." ®

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