In scientific research, medical, and various diverse fields, most minute measurements are often most crucial. A special type of device called Superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUID) is used for these measurements, and they effectively get electrons working as quantum bits.
Researchers from the University of Basel have developed a new, extremely tiny SQUID that can detect magnetic fields that are extremely faint, making it more useful to scientists. The research is published in Nano Letters.
The new device comprises two layers of graphene separated by a very thin layer of boron nitride. With just 10 nanometers thick or around a thousandth of a human hair’s thickness, it is one of the smallest SQUIDS evert built.
A conventional SQUID works as a ring – a superconducting loop with two ‘weak link’ points. The magnetic field is measured by analyzing the travel of electrons around this loop, and the threshold at which the SQUID stops being a superconductor. The size of the weak link is the limiting factor with this design. By switching to a stacked design, the new SQUID can detect even faint magnetic fields.
SQUIDS are important wherever there are magnetic fields to be measured – monitoring heart or brain activity or detecting differences in the composition of rocks. The new SQUID makes the measurement even more precise.
One possible technical application would be to look at topological insulators in which electrons can travel over the insulator’s surface. The new SQUID can determine if the material’s topological properties influence these lossless supercurrents. Also, it helps in differentiating them from non-topological materials.
The scientists can change its sensitivity by adjusting the distance between the two graphene layers and adjusting the current put through it.
We will continue to see more SQUID-related innovations as scientists continue to experiment with different materials and nanostructures to get the devices smaller and more accurate than ever before.
The new SQUID outlined in this study is ready to be deployed.
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