Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered a unique new twist to the story of graphene, sheets of pure carbon just one atom thick, and in the process appear to have solved a mystery that has held back device development.
The Dirac spectrum of bilayer graphene when the two layers are exactly aligned (left) shifts with a slight interlayer twist that breaks interlayer-coupling and potential symmetry, leading to a new spectrum with surprisingly strong signatures in ARPES data. (Image courtesy of Keun Su Kim)
Electrons can race through graphene at nearly the speed of light – 100 times faster than they move through silicon. In addition to being superthin and superfast when it comes to conducting electrons, graphene is also superstrong and superflexible, making it a potential superstar material in the electronics and photonics fields, the basis for a host of devices, starting with ultrafast transistors. One big problem, however, has been that graphene’s electron conduction can’t be completely stopped, an essential requirement for on/off devices.
The on/off problem stems from monolayers of graphene having no bandgaps – ranges of energy in which no electron states can exist. Without a bandgap, there is no way to control or modulate electron current and therefore no way to fully realize the enormous promise of graphene in electronic and photonic devices. Berkeley Lab researchers have been able to engineer precisely controlled bandgaps in bilayer graphene through the application of an external electric field. However, when devices were made with these engineered bandgaps, the devices behaved strangely, as if conduction in those bandgaps had not been stopped. Why such devices did not pan out has been a scientific mystery until now.
Working at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), a DOE national user facility, a research team led by ALS scientist Aaron Bostwick has discovered that in the stacking of graphene monolayers subtle misalignments arise, creating an almost imperceptible twist in the final bilayer graphene. Tiny as it is – as small as 0.1 degree – this twist can lead to surprisingly strong changes in the bilayer graphene’s electronic properties.
“The introduction of the twist generates a completely new electronic structure in the bilayer graphene that produces massive and massless Dirac fermions,” says Bostwick. “The massless Dirac fermion branch produced by this new structure prevents bilayer graphene from becoming fully insulating even under a very strong electric field. This explains why bilayer graphene has not lived up to theoretical predictions in actual devices that were based on perfect or untwisted bilayer graphene.”
Bostwick is the corresponding author of a paper describing this research in the journal Nature Materials titled “Coexisting massive and massless Dirac fermions in symmetry-broken bilayer graphene.” Keun Su Kim of the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin is the lead author Other coauthors are Andrew Walter, Luca Moreschini, Thomas Seyller, Karsten Horn and Eli Rotenberg, who oversees the research at ALS Beamline 7.0.1.
Monolayers of graphene have no bandgaps – ranges of energy in which no electron states can exist. Without a bandgap, there is no way to control or modulate electron current and therefore no way to fully realize the enormous promise of graphene in electronic and photonic devices. Berkeley Lab researchers have been able to engineer precisely controlled bandgaps in bilayer graphene through the application of an external electric field. However, when devices were made with these engineered bandgaps, the devices behaved strangely, as if conduction in those bandgaps had not been stopped.
To get to the bottom of this mystery, Rotenberg, Bostwick, Kim and their co-authors performed a series of angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) experiments at ALS beamline 7.0.1. ARPES is a technique for studying the electronic states of a solid material in which a beam of X-ray photons striking the material’s surface causes the photoemission of electrons. The kinetic energy of these photoelectrons and the angles at which they are ejected are then measured to obtain an electronic spectrum.
“The combination of ARPES and Beamline 7.0.1 enabled us to easily identify the electronic spectrum from the twist in the bilayer graphene,” says Rotenberg. “The spectrum we observed was very different from what has been assumed and contains extra branches consisting of massless Dirac fermions. These new massless Dirac fermions move in a completely unexpected way governed by the symmetry twisted layers.”
Massless Dirac fermions, electrons that essentially behave as if they were photons, are not subject to the same bandgap constraints as conventional electrons. In their Nature Materials paper, the authors state that the twists that generate this massless Dirac fermion spectrum may be nearly inevitable in the making of bilayer graphene and can be introduced as a result of only ten atomic misfits in a square micron of bilayer graphene.
“Now that we understand the problem, we can search for solutions,” says lead author Kim. “For example, we can try to develop fabrication techniques that minimize the twist effects, or reduce the size of the bilayer graphene we make so that we have a better chance of producing locally pure material.”
Beyond solving a bilayer graphene mystery, Kim and his colleagues say the discovery of the twist establishes a new framework on which various fundamental properties of bilayer graphene can be more accurately predicted.
“A lesson learned here is that even such a tiny structural distortion of atomic-scale materials should not be dismissed in describing the electronic properties of these materials fully and accurately,” Kim says.
This research was supported by the DOE Office of Science.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.
The DOE 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.
The Advanced Light Source is a third-generation synchrotron light source producing light in the x-ray region of the spectrum that is a billion times brighter than the sun. A DOE national user facility, the ALS attracts scientists from around the world and supports its users in doing outstanding science in a safe environment. For more information visit www-als.lbl.gov/.The Advanced Light Source is a third-generation synchrotron light source producing light in the x-ray region of the spectrum that is a billion times brighter than the sun. A DOE national user facility, the ALS attracts scientists from around the world and supports its users in doing outstanding science in a safe environment. For more information visit http://www.als.lbl.gov/.
Lynn Yarris | EurekAlert!
Physics, photosynthesis and solar cells
01.12.2016 | University of California - Riverside
New process produces hydrogen at much lower temperature
01.12.2016 | Waseda University
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy