Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Bilayer graphene works as an insulator

Research by UC Riverside-led team has potential applications in digital and infrared technologies

A research team led by physicists at the University of California, Riverside has identified a property of "bilayer graphene" (BLG) that the researchers say is analogous to finding the Higgs boson in particle physics.

The image shows a bilayer graphene schematic. The blue beads represent carbon atoms. Credit: Lau lab, UC Riverside

Graphene, nature's thinnest elastic material, is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Because of graphene's planar and chicken wire-like structure, sheets of it lend themselves well to stacking.

BLG is formed when two graphene sheets are stacked in a special manner. Like graphene, BLG has high current-carrying capacity, also known as high electron conductivity. The high current-carrying capacity results from the extremely high velocities that electrons can acquire in a graphene sheet.

The physicists report online Jan. 22 in Nature Nanotechnology that in investigating BLG's properties they found that when the number of electrons on the BLG sheet is close to 0, the material becomes insulating (that is, it resists flow of electrical current) – a finding that has implications for the use of graphene as an electronic material in the semiconductor and electronics industries.

"BLG becomes insulating because its electrons spontaneously organize themselves when their number is small," said Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and the lead author of the research paper. "Instead of moving around randomly, the electrons move in an orderly fashion. This is called 'spontaneous symmetry breaking' in physics, and is a very important concept since it is the same principle that 'endows' mass for particles in high energy physics."

Lau explained that a typical conductor has a huge number of electrons, which move around randomly, rather like a party with ten thousand guests with no assigned seats at dining tables. If the party only has four guests, however, then the guests will have to interact with each other and sit down at a table. Similarly, when BLG has only a few electrons the interactions cause the electrons to behave in an orderly manner.

New quantum particle

Allan MacDonald, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in the Department of Physics at The University of Texas at Austin and a coauthor on the research paper, noted that team has measured the mass of a new type of massive quantum particle that can be found only inside BLG crystals.

"The physics which gives these particles their mass is closely analogous to the physics which makes the mass of a proton inside an atomic nucleus very much larger than the mass of the quarks from which it is formed," he said. "Our team's particle is made of electrons, however, not quarks."

MacDonald explained that the experiment the research team conducted was motivated by theoretical work which anticipated that new particles would emerge from the electron sea of a BLG crystal.

"Now that the eagerly anticipated particles have been found, future experiments will help settle an ongoing theoretical debate on their properties," he said.

Practical applications

An important finding of the research team is that the intrinsic "energy gap" in BLG grows with increasing magnetic field.

In solid state physics, an energy gap (or band gap) refers to an energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist. Generally, the size of the energy gap of a material determines whether it is a metal (no gap), semiconductor (small gap) or insulator (large gap). The presence of an energy gap in silicon is critical to the semiconductor industry since, for digital applications, engineers need to turn the device 'on' or conductive, and 'off' or insulating.

Single layer graphene (SLG) is gapless, however, and cannot be completely turned off because regardless of the number of electrons on SLG, it always remains metallic and a conductor.

"This is terribly disadvantageous from an electronics point of view," said Lau, a member of UC Riverside's Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. "BLG, on the other hand, can in fact be turned off. Our research is in the initial phase, and, presently, the band gap is still too small for practical applications. What is tremendously exciting though is that this work suggests a promising route – trilayer graphene and tetralayer graphene, which are likely to have much larger energy gaps that can be used for digital and infrared technologies. We already have begun working with these materials."

Lau and MacDonald were joined in the research by J. Velasco Jr. (the first author of the research paper), L. Jing, W. Bao, Y. Lee, P. Kratz, V. Aji, M. Bockrath, and C. Varma at UCR; R. Stillwell and D. Smirnov at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Tallahassee, Fla.; and Fan Zhang and J. Jung at The University of Texas at Austin.

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, FENA Focus Center, and other agencies.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 20,500 students. The campus will open a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call 951-UCR-NEWS.

Iqbal Pittalwala | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>