Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have linked together, or "entangled," the mechanical motion and electronic properties of a tiny blue crystal, giving it a quantum edge in measuring electric fields with record sensitivity that may enhance understanding of the universe.
The quantum sensor consists of 150 beryllium ions (electrically charged atoms) confined in a magnetic field, so they self-arrange into a flat 2D crystal just 200 millionths of a meter in diameter. Quantum sensors such as this have the potential to detect signals from dark matter—a mysterious substance that might turn out to be, among other theories, subatomic particles that interact with normal matter through a weak electromagnetic field. The presence of dark matter could cause the crystal to wiggle in telltale ways, revealed by collective changes among the crystal's ions in one of their electronic properties, known as spin.
As described in the Aug. 6 issue of Science, researchers can measure the vibrational excitation of the crystal—the flat plane moving up and down like the head of a drum—by monitoring changes in the collective spin. Measuring the spin indicates the extent of the vibrational excitation, referred to as displacement.
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