A single layer of tin atoms could be the world’s first material to conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency at the temperatures that computer chips operate, according to a team of theoretical physicists led by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University.
Adding fluorine atoms (yellow) to a single layer of tin atoms (grey) should allow a predicted new material, stanene, to conduct electricity perfectly along its edges (blue and red arrows) at temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit). (Yong Xu/Tsinghua University; Greg Stewart/SLAC)
A single layer of tin – an element familiar as the coating for tin cans – could be the world’s first material to conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency at the temperatures that computer chips operate. If used as wiring in computer chips, the material, called "stanene," could increase the speed and lower the power needs of future generations of computers. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)
Researchers call the new material "stanene," combining the Latin name for tin (stannum) with the suffix used in graphene, another single-layer material whose novel electrical properties hold promise for a wide range of applications.
"Stanene could increase the speed and lower the power needs of future generations of computer chips, if our prediction is confirmed by experiments that are underway in several laboratories around the world," said the team leader, Shoucheng Zhang, a physics professor at Stanford and the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES), a joint institute with SLAC. The team’s work was published recently in Physical Review Letters.
The Path to Stanene
For the past decade, Zhang and colleagues have been calculating and predicting the electronic properties of a special class of materials known as topological insulators, which conduct electricity only on their outside edges or surfaces and not through their interiors. When topological insulators are just one atom thick, their edges conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency. These unusual properties result from complex interactions between the electrons and nuclei of heavy atoms in the materials.
“The magic of topological insulators is that by their very nature, they force electrons to move in defined lanes without any speed limit, like the German autobahn,” Zhang said. “As long as they’re on the freeway – the edges or surfaces – the electrons will travel without resistance.”
In 2006 and 2009, Zhang’s group predicted that mercury telluride and several combinations of bismuth, antimony, selenium and tellurium should be topological insulators, and they were soon proven right in experiments performed by others. But none of those materials is a perfect conductor of electricity at room temperature, limiting their potential for commercial applications.
Earlier this year, visiting scientist Yong Xu, who is now at Tsinghua University in Beijing, collaborated with Zhang’s group to consider the properties of a single layer of pure tin.
“We knew we should be looking at elements in the lower-right portion of the periodic table,” Xu said. “All previous topological insulators have involved the heavy and electron-rich elements located there.”
Their calculations indicated that a single layer of tin would be a topological insulator at and above room temperature, and that adding fluorine atoms to the tin would extend its operating range to at least 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit).
Ultimately a Substitute for Silicon?
Zhang said the first application for this stanene-fluorine combination could be in wiring that connects the many sections of a microprocessor, allowing electrons to flow as freely as cars on a highway. Traffic congestion would still occur at on- and off-ramps made of conventional conductors, he said. But stanene wiring should significantly reduce the power consumption and heat production of microprocessors.
Manufacturing challenges include ensuring that only a single layer of tin is deposited and keeping that single layer intact during high-temperature chip-making processes.
“Eventually, we can imagine stanene being used for many more circuit structures, including replacing silicon in the hearts of transistors,” Zhang said. “Someday we might even call this area Tin Valley rather than Silicon Valley.”
Additional contributors included researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Germany. The research was supported by the Mesodynamic Architectures program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. To learn more, please visit www.slac.stanford.edu.
The Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) is a joint institute of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. SIMES studies the nature, properties and synthesis of complex and novel materials in the effort to create clean, renewable energy technologies. For more information, please visit simes.slac.stanford.edu.
DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
Citation: Yong Xu et al., Physical Review Letters, 27 Sept 2013 (10.1103/PhysRevLett.111.136804)Press Office Contact:
Andy Freeberg | EurekAlert!
Meter-sized single-crystal graphene growth becomes possible
22.08.2017 | Science China Press
Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition
21.08.2017 | Nagoya University
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine
22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.08.2017 | Life Sciences