Magazine article Science News

Little Lamp May Set Quantum Tech Aglow. (Science News of the Week)

Magazine article Science News

Little Lamp May Set Quantum Tech Aglow. (Science News of the Week)

Article excerpt

By implanting tiny atomic clusters in a commonplace electronic component, researchers have created a device that may hasten the arrival of exotic technologies that rely on quantum mechanics.

The new device is a type of light-emitting diode, or LED, the class of tiny, lamps found widely in electronic items and increasingly in electric equipment ranging from on-off switches to bus tail-lights. What sets the new LED apart is that it consistently emits a single photon of light in response to a single tiny electrical pulse.

That's important because investigators have been hatching schemes for exploiting quantum mechanics to boost the performance of many technologies in fields including communications, navigation, and computing (SN: 12/8/01, p. 364). Some of the schemes demand dependable sources of single photons.

A few experimental sources of this sort exist, but external lasers drive them. In contrast, the new device spits out lone photons when stimulated by run-of-the-mill electric signals on microchips. That's "the only way to go for practical devices," claims Andrew J. Shields of Toshiba Research Europe Limited in Cambridge, England. He in vented the device with colleagues there and at the University of Cambridge.

A related device reported by California researchers several years ago (SN: 2/13/99, p. 102) also generated solitary photons in response to voltage pulses--but only about a third of the time. Moreover, it required temperatures near absolute zero. …

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