Ania Bleszynski Jayich, an assistant professor of physics who joined the University of California - Santa Barbara (UCSB) faculty in 2010, spent a year at Harvard working on an experiment that coupled nitrogen-vacancy centres in diamond to nanomechanical resonators. That project is the basis for the new paper, "Coherent sensing of a mechanical resonator with a single spin qubit".
A nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre is a specific defect in diamond that exhibits a quantum magnetic behaviour known as spin. When a single spin in diamond is coupled with a magnetic mechanical resonator - a device used to generate or select specific frequencies - it points toward the potential for a new nanoscale sensing technique with implications for biology and technology, Ania Bleszynski Jayich explained.
Among those possible future applications of such a technique is magnetic resonance imaging on a scale small enough to image the structure of proteins - an as-yet unaccomplished feat that Ania Bleszynski Jayich called "one of the holy grails of structural biology".
"The same physics that will allow the NV centre to detect the magnetic field of the resonator, hopefully, will allow MRI on the nanoscale", Ania Bleszynski Jayich stated. "It could make MRI more accurate, and able to see more. It's like having a camera with eight megapixels versus one with two megapixels and taking a picture of someone's face. You can't see features that are smaller than the size of a pixel. So do they have three freckles, or do they all look like one big freckle?"
"That's the idea", Ania Bleszynski Jayich continued. "To resolve individual freckles, so to speak, to see what a protein is made up of. What we found in this paper suggests that it is possible, although a significant amount of work still needs to be done."
Though further into the future based on the approach used for this paper, Ania Bleszynski Jayich said, there is also the potential for such a coupling to be advanced and exploited as a possible route toward the development of a hybrid quantum system, or quantum computer.
Ania Bleszynski Jayich collaborated on the project with researchers Shimon Kolkowitz, Quirin Unterreithmeier, Steven Bennett, and Mikhail Lukin, all from Harvard; Peter Rabl, from the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Science; and J.G.E. Harris, from Yale. The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, the Center for Ultracold Atoms, and the Packard Foundation.