Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Graphene: A quantum of current

20.05.2016

When current comes in discrete packages: Viennese scientists unravel the quantum properties of the carbon material graphene

In 2010 the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of the exceptional material graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. But graphene research did not stop there. New interesting properties of this material are still being found. An international team of researchers has now explained the peculiar behaviour of electrons moving through narrow constrictions in a graphene layer. The results have been published in the journal Nature Communications.


Electron wave passing through a narrow constriction.

Credit: TU Wien

The Electron is a Wave

"When electrical current flows through graphene, we should not imagine the electrons as little balls rolling through the material", says Florian Libisch from TU Wien (Vienna), who led the theoretical part of the research project. The electrons swash through the graphene as a long wave front, the wavelength can be a hundred times larger than the space between two adjacent carbon atoms. "The electron is not confined to one particular carbon atom, in some sense it is located everywhere at the same time", says Libisch.

The team studied the behaviour of electrons squeezing through a narrow constriction in a graphene sheet. "The wider the constriction, the larger the electron flux - but as it turns out, the relationship between the width of the constriction, the energy of the electrons and the electric current is quite complex", says Florian Libisch. "When we make the constriction wider, the electric current does not increase gradually, it jumps at certain points. This is a clear indication of quantum effects."

If the wavelength of the electron is so large that it does not fit through the constriction, the electron flux is very low. "When the energy of the electron is increased, its wavelength decreases", explains Libisch. "At some point, one wavelength fits through the constriction, then two wavelengths, then three - this way the electron flux increases in characteristic steps." The electric current is not a continuous quantity, it is quantized.

Theory and Experiment

This effect can also be observed in other materials. Detecting it in graphene was much more difficult, because its complex electronic properties lead to a multitude of additional effects, interfering with each other. The experiments were performed at the group of Christoph Stampfer at the RWTH Aachen (Germany), theoretical calculations and computer simulations were performed in Vienna by Larisa Chizhova and Florian Libisch at the group of Joachim Burgdörfer.

For the experiments, the graphene sheets hat to be etched into shape with nanometre precision. "Protecting the graphene layer by sandwiching it between atomic layers of hexagonal boron nitride is critical for demonstrating the quantized nature of current in graphene" explains Christoph Stampfer. Current through the devices is then measured at extremely low temperatures. "We use liquid helium to cool our samples, otherwise the fragile quantum effects are washed out by thermal fluctuations" says Stampfer. Simulating the experiment poses just as much of a challenge. "A freely moving electron in the graphene sheet can occupy as many quantum states as there are carbon atoms", says Florian Libisch, "more than ten million, in our case." This makes the calculations extremely demanding. An electron in a hydrogen atom can be described using just a few quantum states. The team at TU Wien (Vienna) developed a large scale computer simulation and calculated the behaviour of the electrons in graphene on the Vienna Scientific Cluster VSC, using hundreds of processor cores in parallel.

Edge States

As it turns out, the edge of the graphene sheet plays a crucial role. "As the atoms are arranged in a hexagonal pattern, the edge can never be a completely straight line. On an atomic scale, the edge is always jagged", says Florian Libisch. In these regions, the electrons can occupy special edge states, which have an important influence on the electronic properties of the material. "Only with large scale computer simulations using the most powerful scientific computer clusters available today, we can find out how these edge states affect the electrical current", says Libisch. "The excellent agreement between the experimental results and our theoretical calculations shows that we have been very successful."

The discovery of graphene opened the door to a new research area: ultrathin materials which only consist of very few atomic layers are attracting a lot of attention. Especially the combination of graphene and other materials - such as boron nitride, as in this case - is expected to yield interesting results. "One thing is for sure: whoever wants to understand tomorrow's electronics has to know a lot about quantum physics", says Florian Libisch.

###

Original publication: "Size quantization of Dirac fermions in graphene constrictions", Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS11528

Further information:
Dr. Florian Libisch
Institute for Theoretical Physics
TU Wien
Wiedner Hauptstraße 8-10, 1040 Wien
T: +43-1-58801-13608
florian.libisch@tuwien.ac.at

Florian Aigner | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht New biomaterial could replace plastic laminates, greatly reduce pollution
21.09.2017 | Penn State

nachricht Stopping problem ice -- by cracking it
21.09.2017 | Norwegian University of Science and Technology

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>