Nuclear Spins Control Current in Plastic LED

Step toward Quantum Computing, Spintronic Memory, Better Displays

Sept. 18, 2014 – University of Utah physicists read the subatomic “spins” in the centers or nuclei of hydrogen isotopes, and used the data to control current that powered light in a cheap, plastic LED – at room temperature and without strong magnetic fields.


University of Utah physicist Christoph Boehme works in his laboratory on an apparatus used in a new study that brings physics a step closer to “spintronic” devices such as superfast computers, more compact data storage devices and more efficient organic LEDs or OLEDS than those used today for display screens in cell phones, computers and televisions. The study, published in the Sept. 19 issue of the journal Science, showed the physicists could read the subatomic “spins” in hydrogen nuclei and use the data to control current that powers light in a cheap, plastic LED, or OLED, under practical operating conditions. Photo Credit: Lee J. Siegel, University of Utah

The study – published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science – brings physics a step closer to practical machines that work “spintronically” as well as electronically: superfast quantum computers, more compact data storage devices and plastic or organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, more efficient than those used today in display screens for cell phones, computers and televisions.

“We have shown we can use room-temperature, plastic electronic devices that allow us to see the orientation of the tiniest magnets in nature – the spins in the smallest atomic nuclei,” says physics professor Christoph Boehme, one of the study’s principal authors. “This is a step that may lead to new ways to store information, produce better displays and make faster computers.”

The experiment is a much more practical version of a study Boehme and colleagues published in Science in 2010, when they were able to read nuclear spins from phosphorus atoms in a conventional silicon semiconductor. But they could only do so when the apparatus was chilled to minus 453.9 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly absolute zero), was bombarded with intense microwaves and exposed to superstrong magnetic fields.

In the new experiments, the physicists were able to read the nuclear spins of two isotopes of hydrogen: a single proton and deuterium, which is a proton, neutron and electron. The isotopes were embedded in an inexpensive plastic polymer or organic semiconductor named MEH-PPV, an OLED that glows orange when current flows.

The researchers flipped the spins of the hydrogen nuclei to control electrical current flowing though the OLED, making the current stronger or weaker. They did it at room temperature and without powerful light bombardment or magnetic fields – in other words, at normal operating conditions for most electronic devices, Boehme says.

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