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Creating designer quantum states of matter atom-by-atom


Advances in high-resolution and spin-resolved scanning tunnelling microscopy, as well as atomic-scale manipulation, have enabled the bottom-up, atom-by-atom creation and characterization of quantum states of matter. This capability is largely based on controlling the particle-like or wave-like nature of electrons and the interactions between spins, electrons and orbitals, as well as their interplay with structure and dimensionality. In this Review, we describe recent progress in using a scanning tunnelling microscope to create artificial electronic and spin lattices that lead to various exotic quantum phases of matter, ranging from topological Dirac dispersion to complex magnetic order. We also offer our perspective on the future directions of this developing field, namely the exploration of non-equilibrium dynamics, engineering quantum phase transitions and topology, prototype technologies and the general concept in nature of evolution of complexity from simplicity.

Key points

  • Scanning tunnelling microscopy and spectroscopy can be used to create quantum states of matter through atomic manipulation.

  • It is possible to create low-dimensional structures that exhibit strong quantum confinement as well as Dirac-type materials and topologically non-trivial matter.

  • Magnetic states of matter can be tailored atom-by-atom by quantifying the interactions between individual atomic spins.

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Fig. 1: Platforms for artificial electronic and spin lattices.
Fig. 2: Formation of quantum well states from nearest-neighbour interactions of adatoms and vacancies.
Fig. 3: Creating complex lattice structures.
Fig. 4: Determination of spin couplings on different substrates.
Fig. 5: Spin chains built in different coupling regimes.


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A.A.K. acknowledges the Dutch Research Council (NWO) NWO-VIDI project ‘Manipulating the interplay between superconductivity and chiral magnetism at the single-atom level’ (project no. 680-47-534) and funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 818399 ‘SPINAPSE’). A.F.O. acknowledges support from the ERC (ERC Starting Grant 676895 ‘SPINCAD’). I.S. acknowledges funding from the NWO (grant no. 16PR3245-1).

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Correspondence to Alexander A. Khajetoorians or Ingmar Swart.

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Khajetoorians, A.A., Wegner, D., Otte, A.F. et al. Creating designer quantum states of matter atom-by-atom. Nat Rev Phys 1, 703–715 (2019).

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