Crommie, UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Yossi Yayon and graduate student Victor W. Brar succeeded by creating islands of cobalt atoms on a cold copper substrate (4.8 Kelvin, or -451 degrees Fahrenheit) and sprinkling these islands with atoms of either iron or chromium.
Employing a relatively new technique called low-temperature spin-polarized scanning tunneling spectroscopy - essentially a scanning, tunneling microscope that can probe the spin and energy-dependent electron density of a surface - they were able to determine the spin of isolated adatoms atop these cobalt nanoislands.
"These magnetic islands are teeny tiny nanomagnets, but from the single-atom perspective they are just large fixed ferromagnets, like a refrigerator magnet," Crommie said. "We took individual atoms and coupled them to these large magnets so we could fix the direction of the spin of an atom and it would stay put."
Crommie's CCMS colleagues, Steve C. Erwin and post-doctoral fellow Laxmidhar Senapati, calculated that in such a situation, iron atoms would assume a spin state parallel to the spins of the atoms in the cobalt island, while chromium would assume an anti-parallel spin, which is exactly what the researchers found.
How spins couple to one another is an important question for a quantum computer, because in a practical device, the spin of an atom would be quantum mechanically intermingled or "entangled" with the spin of other atoms, manipulated in some sort of calculation, and then disentangled to obtain the result. Understanding such interactions also are critical in spintronic devices, where the spin of atoms is used to control the flow of spin-polarized electrons in a circuit.
"We are clearly not yet in a useful regime for quantum computation because the spins we are looking at are very strongly coupled to the environment," Crommie said. "Nevertheless, this measurement is very useful because it shows
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley