Quantum cryptography gets nanotube boost

Tuesday, 9 September 2003, 2:41 PM EST

Narrow emissions and a complete absence of blinking have tempting implications for single photon emitters--devices needed to dependably release a single photon on command. The U.S. Department of Defense is very interested in developing quantum cryptography, a theoretically unbreakable method of coding information, which necessitates a reliable way to deliver single photons on demand.

Other applications come in the form of sensors so sensitive they can detect a single molecule of a substance. For example, when a biological molecule such as a protein binds to a nanotube, the nanotube's perfect emission changes, revealing the presence and characteristics of the molecule. Detecting the change would be impossible if it weren't for the remarkably steady nature of the nanotube emission, because a researcher wouldn't know for certain if a sudden change in the emission was just a blink, or was meant to indicate the presence of the target molecule.

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