Exploring 2D Materials

Two-dimensional materials have been creating a buzz recently, ever since scientists were able to isolate graphene. Research into other 2D materials abounds, as these have potential applications in a wide range of fields, including photovoltaics, semiconductors, and electrodes. Now, researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and elsewhere have explored the physics behind these 2D materials and their potential to push computing to new levels of power and speed.

In particular, the UCI researchers published a study in the journal Nature that details the development of 2D quantum materials that have breakthrough electrical and magnetic attributes that can make topological quantum computers — which are still theoretical — and other advanced electronics possible.

"Finally, we can take exotic, high-end theories in physics and make something useful," said Jing Xia, UCI associate professor of physics and astronomy. "We're exploring the possibility of making topological quantum computers for the next 100 years."

The 2D materials were observed under extremely cold temperatures using a fiber-optic Sagnac interferometer microscope, a sensitive magnetic microscope built by Xia. It can handle and accurately analyze minuscule material samples.

Breakthrough Materials for Quantum Computers

The UCI researchers developed a compound called chromium germanium telluride (CGT), a superthin carbon film. Just like graphene, CGT can potentially replace silicon in next-generation computers. However, unlike graphene, CGT also has magnetic properties that also make it a viable material for a computer's memory and storage systems.

In another study, published in the journal Science Advances, the UCI team observed another 2D material. Under the Sagnac interferometer, they found that in the interface between bismuth and nickel there's "an exotic superconductor that breaks time-reversal symmetry."

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Both materials conduct electronic signals carried by Dirac or Majorana fermions — and not by electrons, as in silicon. Because they don't have mass, these particles can move almost at the speed of light, and are ideal for braiding operations that are needed in quantum computing.

“The issue now is to try to achieve this at normal temperatures,” Xia said. A separate study that appeared in Nature Materials explores just that, proving that it's possible to stabilize 2D surface states. This is necessary for working quantum computers, as existing ones are already limited by extreme conditions that allow quantum bits (qubits) to function. Qubits are at the heart of what makes quantum computers powerful. Unlike regular binary bits, qubits can be 0s and 1s at the same time, allowing them to process information better. 2D materials can create better processors to handle these qubits.

Once quantum computers become workable in regular conditions, they are expected to change the way research is done, allowing us to solve the world's most complex problems faster than ever before.

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