Hacked Diamond Makes Two-Atom Radio

It used to be pretty keen to stuff a radio receiver into an Altoid’s tin, or to whip up a tiny crystal receiver from a razor blade and a pencil stub. But Harvard researchers have far surpassed those achievements in miniaturization with a nano-scale FM receiver built from a hacked diamond.

As with all such research, the experiments in [Marko Lončar]’s lab are nowhere near as simple as the press release makes things sound. While it’s true that a two-atom cell is the minimal BOM for a detector, the device heard belting out a seasonal favorite from [Andy Williams] in the video below uses billions of nitrogen-vacancy (N-V) centers. N-V centers replace carbon atoms in the diamond crystal with nitrogen atoms; this causes a “vacancy” in the crystal lattice and lends photoluminescent properties to the diamond that are sensitive to microwaves. When pumped by a green laser, incident FM radio waves in the 2.8 GHz range are transduced into AM fluorescent signals that can be detected with a photodiode and amplifier.

The full paper has all the details, shows that the radio can survive extreme pressure and temperature regimes, and describes potential applications for the system. It’s far from a home-gamer’s hack at this point, but it’s a neat trick and one to watch for future exploitation. In the meantime, here’s an accidental FM radio with a pretty small footprint.

Thanks to [Sine Square Saw] for the tip.

13 thoughts on “Hacked Diamond Makes Two-Atom Radio

  1. ” For example, silicon-vacancy centers in diamond have a potential for microwave-to-optical converters in the terahertz band, and the resonant microwave frequency can be tuned by strain.”

    That’s the biggest walkaway, although I don’t know if their electromagnet would be as robust under the condition’s mentioned.

    1. “We demonstrate receiving FM radio signals carried by a 2.85-GHz carrier using the diamond NV centers. A known
      modulating signal (provided by a waveform generator, Agilent 33120A) representing the information is sent to a
      microwave function generator (HP ESG-3000A) to generate an FM microwave signal at the carrier frequency of
      2.85 GHz with −3 dBm power.”

  2. I heard this on NPR today, I yelled at the radio… something like this.
    This is a detector only not tuned circuits not amplification. Just a glorified diode with optical output. There is more to a foxhole radio than a blue razor blade. The whole setup must fill a bench top.

    1. Agreed. As Eliott Williams said to me when he edited this post, this has to be “the hardest way to do something simple” there is. But I really like stuff like this, and I thought it was important to point out that we can potentially build a radio that can survive the surface of Venus with this technology. That plus what Al “No Relation” Williams pointed out – N-V centers used in quantum computing.

      But then again, the first transistor test setup filled a whole bench, and look where we are less than 80 years later.

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