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“Vacancy” is a sign you want to see when searching for a hotel room on a road trip. When it comes to quantum materials, vacancies are also something you want to see. Scientists create them by removing atoms in crystalline materials. Such vacancies can serve as quantum bits or qubits, the basic unit of quantum technology.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago have made a breakthrough that should help pave the way for greatly improved control over the formation of vacancies in silicon carbide, a semiconductor.

 Semiconductors are the material behind the brains in cell phones, computers, medical equipment, and more. For those applications, the existence of atomic-scale defects in the form of vacancies is undesirable, as they can interfere with performance. According to recent studies, however, certain types of vacancies in silicon carbide and other semiconductors show promise for the realization of qubits in quantum devices. Applications of qubits could include unhackable communication networks and hypersensitive sensors able to detect individual molecules or cells. Also possible in the future are new types of computers able to solve complex problems beyond the reach of classical computers.

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