AWG controls physics experiments on single atoms at Stuttgart University

Feb. 15, 2018

Grosshansdorf, Germany. Spectrum Instrumentation announced today that the Stuttgart University has chosen a Spectrum arbitrary waveform generator for experiments in which single atoms in a diamond are replaced by nitrogen atoms. This method is a base for applications like a magnetic field detector at the atomic level or a qubit in a quantum computer.

Removing single atoms

The University of Stuttgart’s Physics Department is researching in the field of single, solid-state defects with a particular focus on nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers in diamond, which are formed by removing a carbon atom and replacing it with a nitrogen atom to form a NV pair.

The NV defect centers can be used as an atom-sized magnetic field sensor—effectively a nanoscale nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) device as it can detect the interaction of the NV’s spin with tiny local magnetic fields detecting both strength and frequency—for example, measuring the magnetic field strength of the tiny read/write heads on hard disk drives so that they can be characterized. The nanoscale NMR function could also be used for structural analysis of a single protein or thin films as only a few spins are needed to measure these small samples unlike a normal size NMR.

NVs can also be used as a qubit for processing functions in quantum computing by using two spin states and superpositions between them. This is of particular interest as they have stable spin states at room temperature, unlike similar options that require ultralow temperatures and pressures.

Several NVs are created typically 5 nm within the diamond at a depth that depends on the energy used to implant the nitrogen atom into the diamond lattice. The aim is to be able to implant them one at a time to create arrays for quantum computing.

An AWG is needed

The NV center is manipulated with sequences of optical excitation pulses as well as microwave and radio frequency pulses. This requires extremely precise sequences of very short pulses to be created. One of Spectrum’s latest generation arbitrary waveform generators (AWG) was selected to provide the input for this as Spectrum was able to deliver an AWG with the required ten output channels (four analog and six digital channels). Spectrum’s modular design philosophy enabled the company to add six additional digital marker channels to the standard four analog channels by the addition of an internal daughterboard to provide the extra connections. The AWG model used is a DN2.663-04 generatorNETBOX, which is a standalone unit that connects through Ethernet to a controlling PC.

The AWG controls a laser and a microwave signal using IQ modulation, generates radio-frequency pulses, and triggers data-acquisition devices to determine the spin state. “Effectively it runs the whole experiment thanks to its large number of output channels,” explained Thomas Oeckinghaus, the experimental physicist who is doing his Ph.D. on this research. “The key factor in selecting the Spectrum AWG was its speed as our experiments require very short pulses down to between 10 to 20 nanoseconds. At 1.25 GS/s, it can control these with a very high time resolution of 800 picoseconds.”

The new piece of equipment

Using a new piece of equipment, especially one that provides a high level of flexibility, can always be challenging but he found that the documentation made setup straightforward. Only one problem was encountered, and Spectrum provided a new driver with a fix the next day. “Post sales support can often be ignored in the checklist when selecting a new piece of equipment,” he concluded. “I was really impressed to have a fix the next day. That gives me confidence that if I ever have a problem, Spectrum will quickly sort it.”

Each channel of Spectrum’s AWG has a 16-bit DAC that can generate precise and flexible wave shapes with frequency content from DC to 400 MHz to emulate real-world signals. To allow the generation of long and complex waveforms, the AWG has a number of operating modes such as Single-Shot, Loop, FIFO, Gating, and Sequence Replay. The AWG can even output signals while new waveform data is being sent to the on-board memory.

Founded in 1989 as Spectrum Systementwicklung Microelectronic GmbH and renamed to Spectrum Instrumentation GmbH in 2017, the company is a pioneer in using modular design to create over 500 digitizer and generator products in the most popular industry standards: PCIe, LXI, and PXIe. These high-performance PC-based test and measurement designs are used for electronic signal capture, generation and analysis. The company is headquartered in Grosshansdorf, Germany, and sells its products worldwide via a sales network offering support directly from the design engineers.

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