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York scientist provides 'new spin' on emerging quantum technologies

Posted on 23 April 2013

An international team of scientists, including University of York physicist Dr Irene D’Amico, has shed new light on a fundamental area of physics which could have important implications for future electronic devices and the transfer of information at the quantum level.


Images illustrate how collective spin excitations behave under the effect of the spin-orbit field, with and without external magnetic field. © 2012 American Physical Society (see below)
The electrical currents currently used to power electronic devices are generated by a flow of charges. However, emerging quantum technologies such as spin-electronics, make use of both charge and another intrinsic property of electrons – their spin – to transfer and process signals and information.  

The experimental and theoretical work, carried out by researchers from York’s Department of Physics, the Institute of Nanoscience in Paris and the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA, could have important implications for spintronics and quantum information technologies.

The team looked at semiconductors’ structures – the base of current electronic devices and of many spintronic device proposals - and the problems created by internal fields known as spin-orbit fields. In general, these tend to act differently on each electronic spin, causing a phenomenon referred to as ‘spin-decoherence’. This means that the electronic spins will behave in a way which cannot be completely controlled or predicted, which has important implications for device functionalities.

To address this problem, the scientists looked at semiconductor structures called ‘quantum wells’ where the spins can be excited in a collective, coherent way by using lasers and light scattering.      

They demonstrated that these collective spin excitations possess a macroscopic spin of quantum nature. In other words, the electrons and their spins act as a single entity making them less susceptible to spin orbit fields, so decoherence is highly suppressed.

The theoretical work was led by Dr D’Amico from York’s Department of Physics, and Carsten Ullrich, an Associate Professor from Missouri-Columbia’s Department of Physics. The project began with their prediction about the effect of spin Coulomb drag on collective spin excitations, and developed into a much larger international project spanning over three years, which was funded in the UK by a Royal Society grant, with additional funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

This work has developed into a strong international collaboration which has greatly improved our understanding at fundamental level of the role of many-body interactions on the behaviour of electron spins

Dr Irene D’Amico

Dr D’Amico said: “This work has developed into a strong international collaboration which has greatly improved our understanding at fundamental level of the role of many-body interactions on the behaviour of electron spins.

“By combining experimental and theoretical work, we were able to demonstrate that through many-body interactions, a macroscopic collection of spins can behave as a single entity with a single macroscopic quantum spin, making this much less susceptible to decoherence. In the future, it may be possible to use these excitations as signals to transport or elaborate information at the quantum level.”

After reporting their results in the journal Physical Review Letters last year, the team of scientists confirmed and extended the results by considering different materials and type of excitation. The second set of experiments, were recently reported in Physical Review B (Rapid Communication) and highlighted by the Journal as an ‘Editor’s Suggestion’.

Dr Florent Perez, who led the experimental work with Florent Baboux, at the CNRS/Université Paris VI, says the results strongly suggest that the quantum nature of the macroscopic spin is universal to collective spin excitations in conductive systems.

He said: “The collaboration with Irene D’Amico and Carsten Ullrich has been particularly powerful to disentangle the puzzle of our data. In our first joint work we constructed an interpretation of the phenomenon which was confirmed in a second investigation carried out on a different system. This paved the way for a universality of the effect.”

Notes to editors:

  • The full journal articles outlining this research are available at:
    1. “Giant Collective Spin-Orbit Field in a Quantum Well: Fine Structure of Spin Plasmons”; authors F. Baboux, F. Perez, C. A. Ullrich, I. D’Amico, J. Gómez, and M. Bernard, appears in Physical Review Letters at http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v109/i16/e166401
    2. “Coulomb-driven organization and enhancement of spin-orbit fields in collective spin excitations”; authors F. Baboux, F. Perez, C. A. Ullrich, I. D'Amico, G. Karczewski, and T. Wojtowicz, appears in Physical Review B (Rapid Communication) as an Editor's Suggestion, at http://prb.aps.org/abstract/PRB/v87/i12/e121303
  • Further information on the Department of Physics at the University of York is available at www.york.ac.uk/physics
  • The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

    The Society’s strategic priorities emphasise its commitment to the highest quality science, to curiosity-driven research, and to the development and use of science for the benefit of society. These priorities are:
    1. Promoting science and its benefits
    2. Recognising excellence in science
    3. Supporting outstanding science
    4. Providing scientific advice for policy
    5. Fostering international and global cooperation
    6. Education and public engagement

    For further information please visit royalsociety.org. Follow the Royal Society on Twitter at twitter.com/royalsociety or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theroyalsociety.
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.
  • Image credit: Reprinted Fig. 1c, Physical Review Letters 109, 166401 (2012), http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v109/i16/e166401: Giant Collective Spin-Orbit Field in a Quantum Well: Fine Structure of Spin Plasmons F. Baboux, F. Perez, C. A. Ullrich, I. D’Amico, J. Gómez, and M. Bernard. © 2012 American Physical Society. NB: Readers may view, browse, and/or download material for temporary copying purposes only, provided these uses are for noncommercial personal purposes. Except as provided by law, this material may not be further reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, adapted, performed, displayed, published, or sold in whole or part, without prior written permission from the American Physical Society.)

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