Electric-field sensing using single diamond spins

Journal name:
Nature Physics
Year published:
Published online

The ability to sensitively detect individual charges under ambient conditions would benefit a wide range of applications across disciplines. However, most current techniques are limited to low-temperature methods such as single-electron transistors1, 2, single-electron electrostatic force microscopy3 and scanning tunnelling microscopy4. Here we introduce a quantum-metrology technique demonstrating precision three-dimensional electric-field measurement using a single nitrogen-vacancy defect centre spin in diamond. An a.c. electric-field sensitivity reaching 202±6Vcm−1Hz−1/2 has been achieved. This corresponds to the electric field produced by a single elementary charge located at a distance of ~150nm from our spin sensor with averaging for one second. The analysis of the electronic structure of the defect centre reveals how an applied magnetic field influences the electric-field-sensing properties. We also demonstrate that diamond-defect-centre spins can be switched between electric- and magnetic-field sensing modes and identify suitable parameter ranges for both detector schemes. By combining magnetic- and electric-field sensitivity, nanoscale detection and ambient operation, our study should open up new frontiers in imaging and sensing applications ranging from materials science to bioimaging.

At a glance


  1. Schematic of the NV and the measurement scheme.
    Figure 1: Schematic of the NV and the measurement scheme.

    a, Schematic drawing of the NV centre with one nitrogen at a carbon lattice site and an adjacent vacancy. b, Simulated absolute electric field 6μm below the microstructure (depth of the NV) for an applied voltage difference of 1V. c, Observed shift of the ODMR resonance lines for different voltages applied to the electrodes, clearly showing the effect of a Stark shift. d, Schematic of the confocal set-up used with Helmholtz coils for magnetic field alignment and a microstructure on the diamond sample to create the electric field and couple in the microwaves

  2. Theory of NV electric-field sensing and measured results.
    Figure 2: Theory of NV electric-field sensing and measured results.

    a, Schematic of the NV centre, coordinate axes and the magnetic, electric and strain fields defined in the text. The solid spheres represent the nuclei of the respective atoms neighbouring the vacancy (transparent). The coordinate axes are defined such that the z axis coincides with the axis of symmetry connecting the nitrogen and vacancy sites. b, The measured normalized magnetic transition frequency change Δω due to an applied a.c. electric field as a function of the axial magnetic field strength (a.c. voltage of 0–5V was applied at the electrodes, τ=80μs, the maximal interaction was normalized to 1). The blue solid line is the theoretical fit using equation (2). The horizontal error bars are due to the uncertainty in the fit of the ODMR spectra used to calculate Bz, the vertical error bars are the error of the fit of the measured data. c, Theoretical change in the magnetic transition frequency Δω due to an applied electric field as a polar function of the magnetic field orientation ϕB in the non-axial plane. The blue line corresponds to the case where the applied electric field and the effective strain field are parallel, and the purple dashed line corresponds to a 10° rotation of the external electric field with respect to the strain field. The extremities of the parallel case are defined by . d, Polar plot of the measured detuning Δω as a function of the magnetic field orientation ϕB in the non-axial plane. The green solid line is the theoretical fit using equation (2). The error bars in the amplitude are due to magnetic field alignment issues, leading to a non-vanishing Bz and therefore to an error of 7% (see Supplementary Information).

  3. Sensitivity and coherence time measurements.
    Figure 3: Sensitivity and coherence time measurements.

    a, Hahn echo pulse scheme with an alternating square electric field for the a.c. measurements (for the d.c. sequence see Supplementary Information). b, The measured minimal detectable change in the electric field δEmin as a function of the measurement time. The solid blue lines correspond to the fitted shot-noise limit. The grey lines represent the electric field strength of single charges at different distances, taking the dielectric constant of diamond (ε=5.7) into account. c, Measured optical Hahn signal as a function of the applied non-axial electric field strength. The solid line is a fit using a cosine function (see Supplementary Information) and a fixed free evolution time (τ=80μs). d, Measured dependence of the NV centre’s coherence time T2* on the axial magnetic field. The solid line shows a fit of the data (see Supplementary Information). The vertical error bars represent the error in the fit of the measured T2* data, the horizontal error bars are the uncertainty of the fit of the ODMR transitions used to determine Bz or, for overlapping ODMR transitions, the error in the extrapolation (see Supplementary Information).


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Author information


  1. 3rd Institute of Physics and Research Center SCOPE, University Stuttgart, Pfaffenwaldring 57, D-70550 Stuttgart, Germany

    • F. Dolde,
    • H. Fedder,
    • F. Rempp,
    • G. Balasubramanian,
    • T. Wolf,
    • F. Reinhard,
    • F. Jelezko &
    • J. Wrachtrup
  2. Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, School of Physics, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

    • M. W. Doherty &
    • L. C. L. Hollenberg
  3. Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology, Atominstitut, TU Wien, Stadionallee 2 1020 Vienna, Austria

    • T. Nöbauer


F.D, H.F., T.N., G.B., T.W. and F.J. carried out the experiments; M.W.D., F. Rempp, F. Reinhard and L.C.L.H developed the theory. All authors discussed the results, analysed the data and commented on the manuscript. J.W. wrote the paper and supervised the project.

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