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Ultra-sensitive sensor detects individual electrons

23 April 2015

A research team has created an electronic device so accurate that it can detect the charge of a single electron in less than one microsecond.

The silicon chip used in the design of the gate sensor (image: TOLOP)

Dubbed the 'gate sensor' by the Spanish-led team at Cambridge University, it could be applied in quantum computers of the future to read information stored in the charge or spin of a single electron.

"We have called it a gate sensor because, as well as detecting the movement of individual electrons, the device is able to control its flow as if it were an electronic gate which opens and closes," says research lead, Fernando González Zalba from the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory and the Cavendish Laboratory.

The researchers have demonstrated the possibility of detecting the charge of an electron with their device in approximately one nanosecond, the best value obtained to date for this type of system. This has been achieved by coupling a gate sensor to a silicon nanotransistor where the electrons flow individually.

Ultra-precise biosensors, single electron transistors, molecular circuits and quantum computers, where electronic functionality is based on the charge of a single electron, could benefit from this new gate sensor, say the researchers.

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