Meet Q-silicon, a new magnetic material for spintronic quantum computers
Silicon has reigned supreme in electronics for the better part of a century, and now a new version might help extend its use into the future. Engineers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) have discovered a brand new form of the material called Q-silicon, with new properties that could have important uses in quantum computers and spintronics.
The NCSU team made their discovery by zapping amorphous silicon with laser pulses lasting just nanoseconds, which melts it, before it’s then rapidly cooled to harden it again. This creates a new form that the team dubbed Q-silicon, similar to their previous work creating Q-carbon.
Q-silicon boasts a few new properties that regular old silicon lacks, the most important of which is ferromagnetism at room temperature. This kind of magnetism is vital for some methods of data storage, and could help unlock an emerging field known as spintronics, which as the name suggests, transmits and stores data in the “spin” of electrons rather than their charge, as current electronics do. This has the potential to make devices smaller, faster and more energy efficient.
This could also make it a great material for quantum computers, which can store information not just in ones and zeroes but also in superpositions of both at the same time. That allows them to perform calculations far more advanced than any traditional computer can handle.
It’s not just ferromagnetism, though. Q-silicon also showed enhanced hardness and superconductivity compared to the regular stuff, both properties that could also help in spintronics and quantum computing.
“This discovery of Q-silicon stands to revolutionize modern microelectronics by adding new functionalities, such as spintronics, or spin-based quantum computing,” said Jay Narayan, corresponding author of the study. “In short, Q-silicon provides an ideal platform for integration of spintronics with microelectronics on a chip.”
The research was published in the journal Material Research Letters.