The Diamond Age

ICONN, Media releases

Move aside bronze, iron, silicon

We’re moving into the Diamond Age according to Professor David Awschalom from the University of California.

He and his team have already built experimental diamond chips by punching atom-sized flaws into the diamond’s molecular structure.

The bling era of everyday computing may still be some years away but Awschalom says the glittering gems may soon replace standard silicon chips in computers, helping usher in an era of more secure communication and immensely more powerful computing.

“The idea is literally to jump ahead of silicon technology and move into the diamond age,” he said at ICONN in Sydney.

Using electromagnetic waves, they can manipulate individual electrons trapped within those flaws. Crucially, they can perform these manipulations within billionths of a second.

Researchers have long dreamed of making incredibly powerful quantum computers, which use the fundamental properties of matter to compute and store information.

Awschalom’s work brings that dream a lot closer to reality by providing engineers with a robust material for building new technologies. And now that it is possible to grow diamonds in reactors, they’re becoming cheap enough, too.

“There are no obvious scientific show-stoppers,” he says. “It works, it’s fast, it’s efficient, and it works at room temperature. I think this will help accelerate the movement of quantum technology from the scientific communities to the world of real-life technology, because these schemes can exploit modern nanofabrication techniques.”

Diamonds are attractive materials for use in real-life quantum computers, or for secure communication based on pulses of light, because their atomic structure locks electrons into place incredibly firmly while allowing them to be manipulated.

The atoms in the diamond chips could also be used to store data, he adds. Each individual atom could store perhaps a million data elements, making memory storage a billion times more dense than is currently possible.

“If we’d have thought about doing this five or six years ago, it would have been extremely challenging with other materials,” Awschalom says. “Nature has been very kind to us.”