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Sensing single remote nuclear spins


The detection of single nuclear spins would be useful for fields ranging from basic science to quantum information technology. However, although sensing based on diamond defects1,2 and other methods3 have shown high sensitivity1,2,3, they have not been capable of detecting single nuclear spins, and defect-based techniques further require strong defect–spin coupling4,5. Here, we present the detection and identification of single and remote 13C nuclear spins embedded in nuclear spin baths surrounding a single electron spin of a nitrogen-vacancy centre in diamond. We are able to amplify and detect the weak magnetic field noise (10 nT) from a single nuclear spin located 3 nm from the centre using dynamical decoupling control6,7,8,9,10, and achieve a detectable hyperfine coupling strength as weak as 300 Hz. We also confirm the quantum nature of the coupling, and measure the spin-defect distance and the vector components of the nuclear field. The technique marks a step towards imaging, detecting and controlling nuclear spins in single molecules.

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Figure 1: NV centre spin and 13C nuclear spin bath in diamond.
Figure 2: Coherence dips induced by 13C nuclear spins.
Figure 3: Quantum coupling with remote 13C nuclear spins.
Figure 4: Determination of hyperfine couplings of two nuclear spins coupled to the same NV centre.


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The authors thank F. Reinhard and T. Staudacher for useful discussions. J.W. acknowledges financial support from the Forschergruppe 1493 and 1482, SFB/TR21, SQUTEC, SOLID and the Max Planck Gesellschaft. R.B.L. thanks Hong Kong Research Grants Council and The Chinese University of Hong Kong Focused Investments Scheme for funding. D.J.T. and M.M. acknowledge funding from the DARPA programme QuASAR.

Author information




N.Z. and R.B.L. proposed the idea. H.F. and N.Z. coordinated the project. H.F., J.H., B.S., M.K., F.J. and N.Z. designed and performed the experiment. N.Z. did the theoretical analysis. J.I., M.M. and D.T. designed and carried out synthesis of the diamond. N.Z., H.F., J.W. and R.B.L. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ren-Bao Liu or Helmut Fedder.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Zhao, N., Honert, J., Schmid, B. et al. Sensing single remote nuclear spins. Nature Nanotech 7, 657–662 (2012).

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