Quantum phenomena as classical or quantum computing transistors


Atoms of a tantalum disulfide (TaS2) crystal
Atoms of a tantalum disulfide (TaS2) crystal with a 2D endotaxial layer in the center. The pink cloud represents the charge density wave, a clumped pattern of electrons, surrounding the 2D layer. Credit: Hovden Laboratory.

These exotic quantum phenomena could be helpful as classical or quantum computing transistors, acting as gates to control voltage flow.

Atoms of a tantalum disulfide (TaS2) crystal with a 2D endotaxial layer in the center. The pink cloud represents the charge density wave, a clumped pattern of electrons surrounding the 2D layer. Credit: Hovden Laboratory.

Quantum materials have generated considerable interest for computing applications in the past several decades, but non-trivial quantum properties—like superconductivity or magnetic spin—remain fragile states.

“When designing quantum materials, the game is always a fight against disorder,” said MSE associate professor Robert Hovden.

Heat is the most common form of disorder that disrupts quantum properties. Quantum materials often only exhibit exotic phenomena at very low temperatures when the atom nearly stops vibrating, allowing the surrounding electrons to interact with one another and rearrange themselves in unexpected ways. This is why quantum computers are currently being developed in baths of liquid helium at −269 °C, or around -450 F. That’s just a few degrees above zero Kelvin (-273.15 °C).

Materials can also lose quantum properties when exfoliated from 3D down to a 2D single layer of atoms, a thinness of particular interest for developing nanoscale devices.

Now a University of Michigan-led research team has developed a new way to induce and stabilize an exotic quantum phenomenon called a charge density wave  at room temperature. They’ve essentially identified a new class of 2D materials. The results are published in Nature Communications.

“This is the first observation of a charge density wave that’s ordered and in two dimensions. We were shocked that not only does it have a charge density wave in two dimensions, but the charge density wave is greatly enhanced,” said Hovden.

Rather than the typical approach of exfoliating and peeling off individual atomic layers to make a 2D material, the researchers grew the 2D material inside of another matrix. They dubbed the new class of materials “endotaxial” from the Greek roots “endo”, meaning within, and “taxis”, meaning in an ordered manner.

The researchers worked with a metallic crystal, tantalum disulfide (TaS2) which, like any crystal, has atoms ordered in a pattern like neatly arranged ping pong balls in all directions. They observed that as the material grew, the electrons of the sandwiched 2D TaS2 crystal layer spontaneously clumped together to form their own crystal, known as a charge crystal or a charge density wave—a repeating pattern in the distribution of electrons in a solid material.

As the electrons clump and crystallize, their movement is restricted, and the metal no longer conducts electricity well. Without changing the chemistry of the material, the charge crystal formation has converted the material from a conductor to an insulator. These exotic quantum phenomena could prove useful as a transistor in either classical or quantum computing, acting as a gate to control voltage flow.

“This opens up the idea that endotaxial synthesis could be an important strategy to stabilize fragile quantum states at normal temperature ranges that we exist in,” said Suk Hyun Sung, first author on the paper and a University of Michigan doctoral graduate and current postdoc at the Rowland Institute at Harvard University.

With a charge crystal stable at room temperature, the researchers heated it up to observe changes.

“It’s ordered at unexpectedly high temperatures. Not only at room temperature but if you heat it up past the boiling point of water, it still has a charge density wave,” said Hovden.

The researchers eventually watched the charged crystal-melt away while the material remained solid, removing the quantum state.

Experiments like this advance our fundamental understanding of quantum materials, which is essential as researchers work to harness exotic quantum phenomena for engineering solutions.

“Quantum materials are going to disrupt both classical and quantum computing,” said Hovden.

Both fields are stuck, says Hovden. Classical computing has exhausted what silicon can do, and quantum computing can currently only operate at extremely low temperatures. To move forward, they need quantum materials.

This research sets the groundwork for discovering new quantum materials using endotaxial synthesis and offers promise for stabilizing quantum properties at more practical temperatures.

Experiments were conducted using the Michigan Center for Materials Characterization (MC)2 with assistance from Tao Ma and Bobby Kerns.

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences (DE-SC0024147), the National Science Foundation (MRSEC DMR-2011839), the National Key R&D Program (Grant Nos. 2022YFA1403203 and 2021YFA160020), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. U2032215, No. U1932217 and No. 12274412).

Additional co-authors: Nishkarsh Agarwal, Patrick Kezer, Jeremy M. Shen, Tony Chiang, John T. Heron, and Kai Sun of the University of Michigan; Ismail El Baggari and Yin Min Goh of Harvard University;  Noah Schnitzer and Lena F. Kourkoutis of Cornell University; Yu Liu Wenjian Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Yuping Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Nanjing University.

Full citation: “Endotaxial stabilization of 2D charge density waves with long-range order,” Suk Hyun Sung, Nishkarsh Agarwal, Ismail El Baggari, Patrick Kezer, Yin Min Goh, Noah Schnitzer, Jeremy M. Shen, Tony Chiang, Yu Liu Wenjian Lu, Yuping Sun, Lena F. Kourkoutis, John T. Heron, Kai Sun, and Robert Hovden, Nature Communications (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-45711-3

Story by Patricia Delacey, Michigan Engineering

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