The new quantum sensor consists of 150 beryllium ions (electrically charged atoms) that are in a magnetic field. It looks like a flat 2D crystal only 200 ppm in diameter.
Such quantum sensors have the potential to detect signals from dark matter. The presence of dark matter can cause the crystal to vibrate noticeably.
Researchers can measure the vibrational excitation of a crystal – a plane moving up and down.
Ionic crystals can detect certain types of dark matter, such as axions and hidden photons, which interact with ordinary matter through a weak electric field. But dark matter forms a background signal with an oscillation frequency that depends on the mass of a dark matter particle. Experiments to find this type of matter has been going on for over ten years with superconducting circuits. But we used the motion of the trapped ions, which provides sensitivity in a different frequency range.
John Bollinger, Senior Author, NIST
During the experiment, all the ions had the same spin – first it was directed upwards, and then horizontally, so when excited, the ions rotated like a top.
Scientists plan to increase the number of ions to 100 thousand by creating 3D crystals, presumably this will improve sensing capabilities thirty times. In addition, the stability of agitated movement can be improved, which will affect the speed and accuracy of the results.