A team of US theoretical and experimental physicists is using nanotechnology to create a magnetic transistor capable of trapping and tuning a single electron to create a rarified physical state in nearby magnetic electrodes.
The boffins from Rice University in Texas describe the transistor as a probe thousands of times smaller than a living cell.
"The traditional theory of metals, which has held sway for 50 years and fostered terrific technological advances in computing and materials science, breaks down completely in matter that exists in a 'quantum critical state'," said Qimiao Si, professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University and the lead theoretician on the project.
"Previous experiments indicate that quantum criticality is characterised by the inherent quantum effect of entanglement, and the nanoscale magnetic probe we've proposed could provide a controlled and tunable setting to study entanglement at a quantum critical point."
Professor Si explained that the term 'quantum critical point' refers to a phase transition. Just as water goes through a phase transition when it turns to ice or steam, all matter is subject to phase transitions due to fluctuations produced by the peculiar forces of quantum mechanics.
The probe is based on a transistor with an active channel measuring just a few billionths of a metre across. The transistor uses a pair of electrodes made of ferromagnetic metal.
The researchers plan to trap a single electron in the active channel between the electrodes.
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