Trinity research takes step towards production of quantum computers

Trinity physics professor leads research that has made progress in the development of molecular magnets

Research led by Trinity Physics Professor, Stefano Sanvito, has made progress in the development of molecular magnets. The progress is a step towards the production of quantum computers. The physicists on the project are working towards storing data on dimensions as small as 1 nanometer.

The research is underway in the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Institute, a Trinity based center that is funded by the Science Foundation Ireland. Sanvito is the Director of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) Institute at Trinity, Ireland’s leading nanoscience centre. He is leading the research project in conjunction with Professor Roberta Sessoli from the University of Firenze, Italy.

In a paper published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, Sanvito details the use of tightly packed atoms at high densities that can be stored in a standard hard drive disk. Due to the high density of the tightly packed atoms, the magnets are highly efficient. The magnets, made of 1000 molecules, will enable complex calculations to be carried out at much higher speeds in the computers of the future, or quantum computers. These computers will have much higher performance levels than their modern day binary counterparts.

Speaking to Trinity News, Professor Sanvito explained that “molecular magnets are tiny magnets formed by single molecules”. He likened them to the “ones that stick to the fridge,” but “with dimension of the order of one nanometer, or one billionth of a meter”.

Sanvito continued by describing why the small size of molecular magnets can be problematic: “They are not stable at room temperature. What happens is that their magnetization fluctuates at high speed. It is the same situation where a standard magnet keeps exchanging the south and north pole at high speed […] if the magnetization direction keeps changing, the information will not be stored.”

Although scientists have previously been working on molecular magnets for storage use, only now have physicists discovered how to operate them at room temperature. For three decades, molecular magnets have deteriorated at temperatures higher than -200 Celsius and lost all retained data. The degradation is due to the small size of the molecules.

“In a conventional hard-disk the direction of the magnetization remains fixed for many years – or until you change it by writing – but in molecular magnets it spontaneously changes in a fraction of a second,” Professor Sanvito continued. “In fact, the speed of changes increases very fast with temperature. As such molecular magnets are currently unsuitable to store information for long time.”

Sanvito said to Trinity News: “this can be a powerful new design direction, which hopefully will improve the thermal stability of the molecules.” When discussing the relevance of the research, he said: “if we are able to make magnetic molecules stable at room temperature, we can use them to store information […] in a tiny space. One can envision hard-disks of the same size as the ones we have today, but with a capacity up to a 1,000,000 times higher.”

The high performance magnets could store an exabyte of data, which is one million gigabytes.

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.