(Phys.org) Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have linked together, or “entangled,” the mechanical motion and electronic properties of a tiny blue crystal, giving it a quantum edge in measuring electric fields with record sensitivity that may enhance understanding of the universe.
The quantum sensor consists of 150 beryllium ions (electrically charged atoms) confined in a magnetic field, so they self-arrange into a flat 2D crystal just 200 millionths of a meter in diameter. Quantum sensors such as this have the potential to detect signals from dark matter—a mysterious substance that might turn out to be, among other theories, subatomic particles that interact with normal matter through a weak electromagnetic field. The presence of dark matter could cause the crystal to wiggle in telltale ways, revealed by collective changes among the crystal’s ions in one of their electronic properties, known as spin.
In the future, increasing the number of ions to 100,000 by making 3D crystals is expected to improve the sensing capability thirtyfold. In addition, the stability of the crystal’s excited motion might be improved, which would enhance the time reversal process and the precision of the results.
“If we are able to improve this aspect, this experiment can become a fundamental resource for detecting dark matter,” Rey said. “We know 85% of the matter in the universe is made of dark matter, but to date we do not know what dark matter is made of. This experiment could allow us in the future to unveil this mystery.”