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Led by Justus Ndukaife, assistant professor of electrical engineering, Vanderbilt researchers are the first to introduce an approach for trapping and moving a nanomaterial known as a single colloidal nanodiamond with nitrogen-vacancy center using low power laser beam. The width of a single human hair is approximately 90,000 nanometers; nanodiamonds are less than 100 nanometers. These carbon-based materials are one of the few that can release the basic unit of all light—a single photon—a building block for future quantum photonics applications, Ndukaife explains.

Currently it is possible to trap nanodiamonds using light fields focused near nano-sized metallic surfaces, but it is not possible to move them that way because laser beam spots are simply too big. Using an , it takes scientists hours to push nanodiamonds into place one at a time near an emission enhancing environment to form a useful structure. Further, to create entangled sources and qubits—key elements that improve the processing speeds of quantum computers—several emitters are needed close together so that they can interact to make qubits, Ndukaife said.

"We set out to make trapping and manipulating nanodiamonds simpler by using an interdisciplinary approach," Ndukaife said. "Our tweezer, a low frequency electrothermoplasmonic tweezer (LFET), combines a fraction of a laser beam with a low-frequency alternating current electric field. This is an entirely new mechanism to trap and move nanodiamonds." A tedious, hours-long process has been cut down to seconds, and LFET is the first scalable transport and on-demand assembly technology of its kind.

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