Described in a paper titled “Site-selectively generated photon emitters in monolayer MoS2 via local helium ion irradiation” published in Nature Communications, the new method allows for a multitude of applications in quantum technologies, from quantum sensors and transistors in smartphones through to new encryption technologies for data transmission.
Previous circuits on chips rely on electrons as the information carriers. In the future, photons which transmit information at the speed of light will be able to take on this task in optical circuits. Quantum light sources, which are then connected with quantum fiber optic cables and detectors are needed as basic building blocks for such new chips.
Here, the quantum light sources were created in atomically thin material layers through localized irradiation, with nanometer accuracy.
“This constitutes a first key step towards optical quantum computers,” said Julian Klein, lead author of the study. “Because for future applications the light sources must be coupled with photon circuits, waveguides for example, in order to make light-based quantum calculations possible.”
The critical point here is the exact and precisely controllable placement of the light sources. It is possible to create quantum light sources in conventional three-dimensional materials such as diamond or silicon, but they cannot be precisely placed in these materials.
The physicists used a layer of the semiconductor molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) as the starting material, just three atoms thick. They irradiated this with a helium ion beam which they focused on a surface area of less than one nanometer. In order to generate optically active defects, the desired quantum light sources, molybdenum or sulfur atoms are precisely hammered out of the layer. The imperfections are traps for so-called excitons, electron-hole pairs, which then emit the desired photons.