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“Shaken, not stirred”: Spin controlled with mechanical vibration

Spin resonance in diamond using a MEMS resonator

In medicine, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a combination of large magnets and radio waves to control and image the “spin” of atoms in your body. If this technology could be miniaturized to the nanoscale, it would enable many advances, including the creation of a new class of ultrahigh performance computers — so-called “quantum computers.”

Cornell researchers have taken an important step towards this goal by replacing the bulky radio with a very high frequency buzzer (piezoelectric element). In much the same way that Ella Fitzgerald shattered wine glasses with her voice, Cornell researchers have used high-frequency sound to control and manipulate electron spins. The sound vibrations from their buzzer act on atomic defects (nitrogen-vacancy centers) in a diamond.  When the atoms around the NV center are shaken at precisely the right frequency (or musical note note), the spins change their orientation. This accomplishment may have applications in magnetic sensing, navigation, and in the development of a quantum computer. 


An electron spin (blue arrow) can be controlled and rotated by shaking it at the correct frequency using precisely tuned sound from a piezoelectric element.