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Testing limits: Sensor detects electron charge in nanoseconds

Posted: 27 Apr 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sensor? gate-based? gate sensor? quantum computers? Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory?

When it comes to detecting charges of electrons, how fast can you go? M. Fernando Gonzlez Zalba and his team of researchers at the University of Cambridge are testing the limits of gate-based charge sensing with an ultra-sensitive electrical-charge sensor so accurate that it can detect the movement of a single electron in less than one microsecond.

The device, dubbed as the "gate sensor," can be applied in next-generation quantum computers to read information stored in the charge or spin of a single electron.

Gate-based sensor

Silicon chip used for the design of the gate sensor. (Source: TOLOP/SINC)

"The device is much more compact and accurate than previous versions and can detect the electrical charge of a single electron in less than one microsecond," Zalba, leader of this research from the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory and the Cavendish Laboratory, told SINC.

M. Fernando Gonzlez Zalba

M. Fernando Gonzlez Zalba (Source: Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory)

Details of the breakthrough have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

"We have called it a gate sensor because, as well as detecting the movement of individual electrons, the device is able to control its flow as if it were an electronic gate which opens and closes," explained Gonzlez Zalba.

The researchers have demonstrated the possibility of detecting the charge of an electron with their device in approximately one nanosecond, the best value obtained to date for this type of system. This has been achieved by coupling a gate sensor to a silicon nanotransistor where the electrons flow individually. (See also: Electronic gate built for silicon quantum computers)

In general, the electrical current which powers our telephones, fridges and other electrical equipment is made up of electrons: minuscule particles carrying an electrical charge travelling in their trillions and whose collective movement makes these appliances work.

However, this is not the case of the latest cutting-edge devices such as ultra-precise biosensors, single electron transistors, molecular circuits and quantum computers. These represent a new technological sector which bases its electronic functionality on the charge of a single electron, a field in which the new gate sensor can offer its advantages.

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