Unlocking Quantum Secrets – Simulations Reveal the Atomic-Scale Story of Qubits

Quantum Technology Spin Waves

Researchers have identified computational strategies for creating specific spin defects in silicon carbide, paving the way for quantum technological advances. Their findings, which focus on the formation of divacancy spin defects, suggest more work is needed to generalize the method. This research is crucial for quantum information and sensing applications and is supported by close collaboration with experimentalists and funding from the Department of Energy. Credit: Image by Emmanuel Gygi. With permission, a component of the figure is adapted from Christoph Dellago and Peter G. Bolhuis, Adv. Poly. Sci., Springer (2008).

A recent study employs advanced atomic-level computer simulations to predict the formation process of spin defects useful for quantum technologies.

Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, led by Giulia Galli, have conducted a computational study predicting the conditions necessary to create specific spin defects in silicon carbide. These findings, detailed in a paper published in Nature Communications, mark a significant step towards establishing the fabrication parameters for spin defects, which hold potential for advancements in quantum technologies.

Quantum Mechanisms and Current Challenges

Electronic spin defects in semiconductors and insulators are rich platforms for quantum information, sensing, and communication applications. Defects are impurities and/or misplaced atoms in a solid and the electrons associated with these atomic defects carry a spin. This quantum mechanical property can be used to provide a controllable qubit, the basic unit of operation in quantum technologies.  

Yet the synthesis of these spin defects, typically achieved experimentally by implantation and annealing processes, is not yet well understood and, importantly, cannot yet be fully optimized. In silicon carbide — an attractive host material for spin qubits due to its industrial availability — different experiments have so far yielded different recommendations and outcomes for creating the desired spin defects. 

The Computational Journey and Findings

“There hasn’t yet been a clear strategy to engineer the formation of spin defects to the exact specifications we want, a capability that would be highly advantageous for advancing quantum technologies,” says Galli, the Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering and Chemistry, who is the corresponding author of the new paper. “So, we embarked in a long computational journey to ask the following question: Can we understand how these defects form by carrying out comprehensive atomistic simulations?”

Galli’s team—including Cunzhi Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher in Galli’s group, and Francois Gygi, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis—have combined multiple computational techniques and algorithms to predict the formation of specific spin defects in silicon carbide known as “divacancies”.

“Divacancies are created by removing a silicon and a carbon atom sitting close together in a silicon carbide solid. We know from previous experiments that these types of defects are promising platforms for sensing applications”, Zhang says.

Quantum sensing could enable the detection of magnetic and electric fields and also reveal how complex chemical reactions occur, beyond what’s possible with today’s technologies.   “To unlock quantum sensing capabilities in the solid-state, we first need to be able to create the right spin defects or qubits at the right location,” Galli says.

To find a recipe for predicting the formation of particular spin defects,  Galli and her team combined several techniques to help them look at the movements of atoms and charges when a defect forms as a function of temperature.

“Typically, when a spin defect is created, other defects also appear and those may negatively interfere with the targeted sensing capabilities of the spin defect,” says Gygi, the main developer of the first-principles molecular dynamics code Qbox used in the team’s quantum simulations. “Being able to fully understand the complex mechanism of defect formation is very important.” 

Techniques and Predictions

The team coupled the Qbox code with other advanced sampling techniques developed within the Midwest Integrated Center for Computational Materials (MICCoM), a computational materials science center headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory and funded by the Department of Energy, of which both Galli and Gygi are senior investigators.

“Our combined techniques and multiple simulations revealed to us the specific conditions under which divacancy spin defects can be efficiently and controllably formed in silicon carbide,” Galli says. “In our calculations, we are letting the fundamental physics equations tell us what is happening inside the crystal structure when defects form.”

Future Directions and Collaborations

The team expects that experimentalists will be interested in using their computational tools to engineer a variety of spin defects in silicon carbide and also other semiconductors, yet cautions that generalizing their tool to predict a broader range of defect formation processes and defect arrays will require more work. “But the proof of principle we have provided is important—we showed that we can computationally determine some of the conditions required to create the desired spin defects,” Galli says.

Next, her team will continue working to expand their computational studies and speed up their algorithms. They also would like to expand their investigation to include a range of more realistic conditions. “Here, we’re only looking at samples in their bulk form, but in experimental samples, there are surfaces, strain, and also macroscopic defects. We would like to include their presence in our future simulations and in particular understand how surfaces influence spin defect formation,” Galli says.

Although her team’s advance is based on computational studies, Galli says all their predictions are rooted in long-standing collaborations with experimentalists. “Without the ecosystem we work in, constantly talking with and partnering with experimentalists, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Reference: “Engineering the formation of spin-defects from first principles” by Cunzhi Zhang, Francois Gygi and Giulia Galli, 26 September 2023, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-41632-9

The work is funded by the Department of Energy through the MICCoM and Q-NEXT centers.

1 Comment on "Unlocking Quantum Secrets – Simulations Reveal the Atomic-Scale Story of Qubits"

  1. According to the topological vortex gravitational field theory, spin defects are the basis for the evolution of the motion of matter in the universe. From the accretion disk of the universe to the vortex light field, there is no exception.
    Wishing you success.

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