SLAC, Stanford study identifies long-sought path toward engineering materials for super-efficient nanoelectronics
Scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have discovered a potential way to make graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms with great promise for future electronics – superconducting, a state in which it would carry electricity with 100 percent efficiency.
Adding calcium atoms (orange spheres) between graphene planes (blue honeycomb) creates a superconducting material called CaC6. Now a study at SLAC has shown for the first time that graphene is a key player in this superconductivity: Electrons scatter back and forth between the graphene and calcium layers, interact with natural vibrations in the material's atomic structure and pair up to conduct electricity without resistance.
Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC
Researchers used a beam of intense ultraviolet light to look deep into the electronic structure of a material made of alternating layers of graphene and calcium. While it's been known for nearly a decade that this combined material is superconducting, the new study offers the first compelling evidence that the graphene layers are instrumental in this process, a discovery that could transform the engineering of materials for nanoscale electronic devices.
"Our work points to a pathway to make graphene superconducting – something the scientific community has dreamed about for a long time, but failed to achieve," said Shuolong Yang, a graduate student at the Stanford Institute of Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) who led the research at SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).
The researchers saw how electrons scatter back and forth between graphene and calcium, interact with natural vibrations in the material's atomic structure and pair up to conduct electricity without resistance. They reported their findings March 20 in Nature Communications.
Graphite Meets Calcium
Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, is the thinnest and strongest known material and a great conductor of electricity, among other remarkable properties. Scientists hope to eventually use it to make very fast transistors, sensors and even transparent electrodes.
The classic way to make graphene is by peeling atomically thin sheets from a block of graphite, a form of pure carbon that's familiar as the lead in pencils. But scientists can also isolate these carbon sheets by chemically interweaving graphite with crystals of pure calcium. The result, known as calcium intercalated graphite or CaC6, consists of alternating one-atom-thick layers of graphene and calcium.
The discovery that CaC6 is superconducting set off a wave of excitement: Did this mean graphene could add superconductivity to its list of accomplishments? But in nearly a decade of trying, researchers were unable to tell whether CaC6's superconductivity came from the calcium layer, the graphene layer or both.
Observing Superconducting Electrons
For this study, samples of CaC6 were made at University College London and brought to SSRL for analysis.
"These are extremely difficult experiments," said Patrick Kirchmann, a staff scientist at SLAC and SIMES. But the purity of the sample combined with the high quality of the ultraviolet light beam allowed them to see deep into the material and distinguish what the electrons in each layer were doing, he said, revealing details of their behavior that had not been seen before.
"With this technique, we can show for the first time how the electrons living on the graphene planes actually superconduct," said SIMES graduate student Jonathan Sobota, who carried out the experiments with Yang. "The calcium layer also makes crucial contributions. Finally we think we understand the superconducting mechanism in this material."
Although applications of superconducting graphene are speculative and far in the future, the scientists said, they could include ultra-high frequency analog transistors, nanoscale sensors and electromechanical devices and quantum computing devices.
The research team was supervised by Zhi-Xun Shen, a professor at SLAC and Stanford and SLAC's advisor for science and technology, and included other researchers from SLAC, Stanford, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University College London. The work was supported by DOE's Office of Science, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of UK, and the Stanford Graduate Fellowship program.
SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more information, visit 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, visit simes.slac.stanford.edu.
SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) is a third-generation light source producing extremely bright X-rays for basic and applied science. A DOE national user facility, SSRL attracts and supports scientists from around the world who use its state-of-the-art capabilities to make discoveries that benefit society. For more information, visit ssrl.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, visit science.energy.gov.
Andy Freeberg | EurekAlert!
A new tool for discovering nanoporous materials
23.05.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Did you know that packaging is becoming intelligent through flash systems?
23.05.2017 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Event News