In recent years, topological insulators have become one of the hottest topics in physics. These new materials act as both insulators and conductors, with their interior preventing the flow of electrical currents while their edges or surfaces allow the movement of a charge.
Perhaps most importantly, the surfaces of topological insulators enable the transport of spin-polarized electrons while preventing the "scattering" typically associated with power consumption, in which electrons deviate from their trajectory, resulting in dissipation.
Because of such characteristics, these materials hold great potential for use in future transistors, memory devices and magnetic sensors that are highly energy efficient and require less power.
In a study published Feb. 13 in Nature Nanotechnology, researchers from UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and from the materials division of Australia's University of Queensland show the promise of surface-conduction channels in topological insulator nanoribbons made of bismuth telluride and demonstrate that surface states in these nanoribbons are "tunable" — able to be turned on and off depending on the position of the Fermi level.
"Our finding enables a variety of opportunities in building potential new-generation, low-dissipation nanoelectronic and spintronic devices, from magnetic sensing to storage," said Kang L. Wang, the Raytheon Professor of Electrical Engineering at UCLA Engineering, whose team carried out the research.
Bismuth telluride is well known as a thermoelectric material and has also been predicted to be a three-dimensional topological insulator with robust and unique surface states. Recent experiments with bismuth telluride bulk materials have also suggested two-dimensional conduction channels originating from the surface states. But it has been a great challenge to modify surface conduction, because of dominant bulk contribution due to impurities and thermal excitations in such small–band-gap semiconductors.
The development of topological insulator nanoribbons has helped. With their large surface-to-volume ratios, these nanoribbons significantly enhance surface conditions and enable surface manipulation by external means.
Wang and his team used thin bismuth telluride nanoribbons as conducting channels in field-effect transistor structures. These rely on an electric field to control the Fermi level and hence the conductivity of a channel. The researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time the possibility of controlling surface states in topological insulator nanostructures.
"We have demonstrated a clear surface conduction by partially removing the bulk conduction using an external electric field," said Faxian Xiu, a UCLA staff research associate and lead author of the study. "By properly tuning the gate voltage, very high surface conduction was achieved, up to 51 percent, which represents the highest values in topological insulators."
"This research is very exciting because of the possibility to build nanodevices with a novel operating principle," said Wang, who is also associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA. "Very similar to the development of graphene, the topological insulators could be made into high-speed transistors and ultra–high-sensitivity sensors."
The new findings shed light on the controllability of the surface spin states in topological insulator nanoribbons and demonstrate significant progress toward high surface electric conditions for practical device applications. The next step for Wang's team is to produce high-speed devices based on their discovery.
"The ideal scenario is to achieve 100 percent surface conduction with a complete insulating state in the bulk," Xiu said. "Based on the current work, we are targeting high-performance transistors with power consumption that is much less than the conventional complementary metal-oxide semiconductors (CMOS) technology used typically in today's electronics."
Study collaborators Jin Zou, a professor of materials engineering at the University of Queensland; Yong Wang, a Queensland International Fellow; and Zou's team at the division of materials at the University of Queensland contributed significantly to this work. A portion of the research was also done in Alexandros Shailos' lab at UCLA.
The study was funded by the Focus Center Research Program—Center on Functional Engineered Nano Architectonics (FENA) at UCLA Engineering; the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); and the Australian Research Council. The research on topological insulators was pioneered by FENA's Shoucheng Zhang, a professor of physics at Stanford University.
The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs and has an enrollment of almost 5,000 students. The school's distinguished faculty are leading research to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century, including renewable energy, clean water, health care, wireless sensing and networking, and cyber-security. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, UCLA Engineering is home to seven multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine, renewable energy, customized computing, and the smart grid, all funded by federal and private agencies.
For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.
Wileen Wong Kromhout | EurekAlert!
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Disarray in the brain
18.12.2017 | Universität zu Lübeck
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.01.2018 | Life Sciences