|▲ Diagram explaining the nuclear spin of individual atoms of iron (Fe) and magnesium oxide (MgO). Photo provided by the Institute of Basic Science
Ewha Womans University’s Center for Quantum Nanoscience team (QNS), led by Professor Andreas Heinrich, and the IBM Almaden Research Center team jointly succeeded in measuring hyperfine interactions of surface atoms for the first time. In a paper published on Oct. 19 in Science, one of the world’s top academic journals, the researchers outlined their most recent findings on hyperfine spectra of surface atoms.
Semiconductor integration technology has reached its technological limit in the status quo. Therefore, a smaller element with efficient operating ability is much sought for. The spin of an individual atom has potential to become an important component of the next-generation electronic element. However, the currently commercialized technology is based on the statistical guesswork from the magnetic signaling of millions of atoms.
Professor Heinrich’s research interests have long been revolving around the assembly and control of quantum systems on an atomic scale. He did so particularly by building very precise atomic-scale measurement technologies, such as scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and electron spin resonance (ESR). The spin is the basic unit for magnetism, where individual atoms either get an upward or downward nuclear spin.
In his most recent research, Heinrich and his team combined the technology of STM and ESR to secure a visual field of what is happening in the interior of an atom. Moreover, they also observed hyperfine interaction on the surface level, an electro-magnetic interaction between the nuclear spin and electron spin. These interactions become the fundamental basis for selecting elements for quantum computing saving units.
“This research is meaningful in that it provided the technological backbone to examine the current knowledge in physics on the basis of multiple atoms – we suggested a breakthrough in overcoming the current developments in physics and creating new material to be used in electronic devices” Heinrich stated in an official statement.
The application of hyperfine interactions spans from quantum computing, to micro-computers and next-generation information storage. In order to develop next-generation information storage devices, the basic unit of measurement must become smaller. When a single atom becomes the storage tool and circuit of electronic devices, the characteristic of single atoms must be closely understood.
These achievements were made possible thanks to the collaborative effort from various physicists from renowned, global institutions. The research included Philip Wilke, from the IBM Almaden Research Center as the first author, and Choi Tae-young and Bae Yu-jeong from QNS as joint authors.
Conducting research with a small research group of four to five scientists that he had close ties to in his 18 years at IBM, Professor Heinrich himself emphasizes the importance of human connection in research.
“As the head of the IBS Quantum Nanoscience team, I want to adopt the role of the grandfather,” he said in an interview with the Institute for Basic Science. “Personally, I think it’s better to have small unit-sized research groups and have a familial atmosphere, rather than systematically passing on research know-how and having meetings for the sake of formality.”
He believes that connecting Korea to the world is of utmost importance. While in the past many Korean researchers went abroad, it is now time for them to come to Korea to research. This is the role played by IBS, which collaborates in joint efforts with researchers in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, France and many more countries.
Ultimately, Heinrich believes that the education of the next generation of researchers is important. This is not just the case for Korea, but for any country in the world.