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Coherent spin manipulation without magnetic fields in strained semiconductors


A consequence of relativity is that in the presence of an electric field, the spin and momentum states of an electron can be coupled; this is known as spin–orbit coupling. Such an interaction opens a pathway to the manipulation of electron spins within non-magnetic semiconductors, in the absence of applied magnetic fields. This interaction has implications for spin-based quantum information processing1 and spintronics2,3, forming the basis of various device proposals4,5,6,7,8. For example, the concept of spin field-effect transistors4,5 is based on spin precession due to the spin–orbit coupling. Most studies, however, focus on non-spin-selective electrical measurements in quantum structures. Here we report the direct measurement of coherent electron spin precession in zero magnetic field as the electrons drift in response to an applied electric field. We use ultrafast optical techniques to spatiotemporally resolve spin dynamics in strained gallium arsenide and indium gallium arsenide epitaxial layers. Unexpectedly, we observe spin splitting in these simple structures arising from strain in the semiconductor films. The observed effect provides a flexible approach for enabling electrical control over electron spins using strain engineering. Moreover, we exploit this strain-induced field to electrically drive spin resonance with Rabi frequencies of up to 30 MHz.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.


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We thank A. M. Andrews, E. L. Hu, P. M. Petroff and J. S. Speck for discussions. This work was supported by the DARPA SPINS and QuIST programmes.

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Correspondence to D. D. Awschalom.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure: Interchangeability of electric and magnetic fields (PDF 125 kb)

Supplementary Table (PDF 144 kb)

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Further reading

Figure 1: Spatiotemporal evolution of a spin packet at zero magnetic field.
Figure 2: Characterization of internal field.
Figure 3: Strain-induced nature of the internal field.
Figure 4: Electrically driven spin resonance using strain-induced field.


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