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A nanometre-scale mechanical electrometer


The mechanical detection of charge has a long history, dating back more than 200 years to Coulomb's torsion-balance electrometer1. The modern analogues of such instruments are semiconductor-based field-effect devices, the most sensitive of which are cryogenically cooled single-electron transistors2. But although these latter devices have extremely high charge sensitivity, they suffer from limited bandwidth and must be operated at millikelvin temperatures in order to reduce thermal noise. Here we report the fabrication and characterization of a working nanometre-scale mechanical electrometer. We achieve a charge sensitivity of 0.1 e Hz−0.5, competitive with conventional semiconductor field-effect transistors; moreover, thermal noise analysis indicates that the nanometre-scale electrometer should ultimately reach sensitivities of the order of 10−6e Hz−0.5, comparable with charge-detection capabilities of cryogenic single-electron transistors. The nanometre-scale electrometer has the additional advantages of high temperature (4.2 K) operation and response over a larger bandwidth, from which a diversity of applications may result.

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Figure 1: Nanometre-scale charge detector.
Figure 2: Amplitude of the induced EMF across the small loop (inner paddle) of the resonator, as a function of the frequency of the drive current passed through the large loop (outer paddle).
Figure 3: Measurement scheme used to measure changes in the phase of the induced EMF as a function of coupled charge, for fixed drive current frequency of 2.617 MHz.
Figure 4: Measured charge noise as a function of frequency, using the measurement set-up shown in Fig. 3.


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This work was supported by DARPA ETO/MEMS.

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Correspondence to M. L. Roukes.

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Cleland, A., Roukes, M. A nanometre-scale mechanical electrometer. Nature 392, 160–162 (1998).

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