In the relatively new scientific frontier of topological insulators, theoretical and experimental physicists have been studying the surfaces of these unique materials for insights into the behavior of electrons that display some very un-electron-like properties.
In topological insulators, electrons can behave more like photons, or particles of light. The hitch is that unlike photons, electrons have a mass that normally plays a defining role in their behavior. In the world of quantum physics, where everyday materials take on surprising and sometimes astonishing properties, electrons on the outer surface of these insulators behave and look uncharacteristically like light.
These unique properties have piqued the interests of scientists who see future applications in areas such as quantum computing and spintronics, or other realms rooted in the manipulation of electronic properties. The early challenge to those researchers is to begin to understand some simple ground rules for controlling these materials.
Boston College researchers report that the placement of tiny ripples on the surface of a topological insulator engineered from bismuth telluride effectively modulates so-called Dirac electrons so they flow in a pathway that perfectly mirrors the topography of the crystal's surface.
Associate Professor of Physics Vidya Madhavan and Assistant Professor of Physics Stephen Wilson report in the current online edition of Nature Communications that scanning tunneling microscopy is capable of revealing the characteristics of these tiny waves as they rise and fall, enabling the researchers to draw a direct connection between the features of the ripples and modulation of the waves across the material's surface.
Instead of chaotic behavior, the electrons flow in a path that mirrors the metal composite's surface, the team reports in an articled titled "Ripple-modulated electronic structure of a 3D topological insulator."
"What we've discovered is that electrons respond beautifully to this buckling of the material's surface," said Madhavan, the project director.
So harmoniously do the waves flow across the ripples – placed approximately 100 nanometers apart – that the researchers say further modifications of the crystal's "nanoscale landscape" could produce enough control to produce a one-dimensional quantum wire capable of carrying current with no dissipation.
The rippled surface appears to exert greater control and run less risk of creating imperfections than other methods, such as introducing chemical dopants, used in attempts to modulate the flow of electrons on the surface of other topological insulators, the researchers found.
Madhavan said the team had to provoke the electrons, which lay placidly atop the surface-state of the insulator, much like the glassy surface of an undisturbed lake. The team disrupted the electrons by introducing impurities, which had an effect similar to that of dropping a stone in a calm lake. This provocation produced waves of electrons that behave like waves of light as they travel pathways that mirror the contours created in the crystal.
"We did not expect the electrons to follow the topography," said Madhavan. "The topography imposes a sinusoidal potential upon the waves. The ripples create that potential by giving the electrons a landscape to follow. This is a way of possibly manipulating these electrons in topological insulators."
In addition to Madhavan and Wilson, the project team included post-doctoral researcher Yoshinori Okada and graduate students Wenwen Zhou, Daniel Walkup and Chetan Dhital.
NOTE: The report "Ripple-modulated electronic structure of a 3D topological insulator" can be cited via a digital object identifier (DOI) number. The DOI for this article is 10.1038/ncomms2150
Ed Hayward | EurekAlert!
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto
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