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Scientists at the Cavendish Laboratory have made a groundbreaking discovery, finding that a single ‘atomic defect’ in the material Hexagonal Boron Nitride (hBN) exhibits spin coherence under ambient conditions. This means that electronic spins within the material can retain quantum information over time. The researchers also found that these spins can be controlled with light. This discovery is significant as materials that can host quantum properties under ambient conditions are rare. The findings, published in Nature Materials, show that the spin coherence at room temperature is longer than initially thought, lasting for approximately one millionth of a second, making this system a promising platform for quantum applications.

hBN is an ultra-thin material that consists of stacked one-atom-thick layers held together by forces between molecules. Within these layers, there are ‘atomic defects’, similar to a crystal with molecules trapped inside. These defects can absorb and emit light in the visible range, act as local traps for electrons, and allow scientists to study how trapped electrons behave. Researchers can study the spin property of these electrons, which enables them to interact with magnetic fields. The ability to control and manipulate electron spins using light within these defects at room temperature opens up possibilities for future technological applications, particularly in sensing technology.

Despite the exciting potential of this discovery, there is still a lot to investigate before the system is mature enough for technological applications. Scientists are working on improving these defects to make them more reliable and exploring ways to extend the spin storage time. They are also looking into optimizing the system and material parameters that are crucial for quantum-technological applications, such as defect stability over time and the quality of light emitted by these defects. The research has highlighted the importance of fundamental material investigation and has the potential to influence future quantum technologies in various fields.

Dr. Hannah Stern, the first author of the paper, conducted this research at the Cavendish Laboratory and is now a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Manchester. She emphasizes the power of fundamental material investigation and the potential for harnessing excited state dynamics in new material platforms for future quantum technologies. The researchers are focused on developing the system further and exploring different directions, from quantum sensors to secure communications. Each new promising system broadens the toolkit of available materials and advances the scalable implementation of quantum technologies. The results of this study demonstrate the promise of layered materials in achieving these goals.

In conclusion, the discovery of spin coherence under ambient conditions in a single ‘atomic defect’ within hBN is a significant advancement in the field of quantum technologies. The ability to control and manipulate electron spins using light at room temperature opens up possibilities for future applications in sensing technology and other fields. While there is still much research to be done to optimize these defects and understand their behavior, the findings represent a promising step towards the implementation of quantum technologies on a larger scale. The research conducted at the Cavendish Laboratory has the potential to pave the way for future advancements in quantum technologies and contribute to the development of new material platforms for various applications.

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