Research ArticlePHYSICS

Magnetic excitation and readout of methyl group tunnel coherence

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Science Advances  01 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 18, eaba1517
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba1517


Methyl groups are ubiquitous in synthetic materials and biomolecules. At sufficiently low temperature, they behave as quantum rotors and populate only the rotational ground state. In a symmetric potential, the three localized substates are degenerate and become mixed by the tunnel overlap to delocalized states separated by the tunnel splitting νt. Although νt can be inferred by several techniques, coherent superposition of the tunnel-split states and direct measurement of νt have proven elusive. Here, we show that a nearby electron spin provides a handle on the tunnel transition, allowing for its excitation and readout. Unlike existing dynamical nuclear polarization techniques, our experiment transfers polarization from the electron spin to methyl proton spins with an efficiency that is independent of the magnetic field and does not rely on an unusually large tunnel splitting. Our results also demonstrate control of quantum states despite the lack of an associated transition dipole moment.

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