Saturday, December 6, 2014

Diamond Magnetometer Breaks Sensitivity Records

In 1896 young physicist Pieter Zeeman was fired for carrying out an experiment against the wishes of his laboratory supervisor. Despite the consequences, the experiment led to a remarkable discovery that changed Zeeman’s life.

The experiment involved measuring the light emitted by elements placed in a powerful magnetic field. When he did this, Zeeman discovered that the spectral lines were split by the field. In 1902, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for this discovery which is now known as the Zeeman effect.
It is particularly useful for measuring magnetic fields at a distance. Astrophysicists use it to map variations in the magnetic field on the sun. But it can also be used to measure fields on a much smaller scale. In theory, the effect could be used to observe the influence of a magnetic field on a single atom.

Thomas Wolf at the University of Stuttgart in Germany have used the spectra from nitrogen atoms embedded in diamond to build perhaps the most sensitive magnetometer ever made. They say their new device could soon be capable of measuring the magnetic field associated with protons.
Nitrogen defects in diamond is a promising type of magnetometer. The Stuttgart team eventually measured a field strength of 100 femtoTesla. That’s comparable with the most sensitive magnetometers on the planet.

What’s unique about the device is that it is both small and sensitive, a combination that has never been achieved before. It can measure magnetic field strengths in tiny volumes. It opens up magnetic field strength detection on a new scale using a solid state device that works at room temperature.

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