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!
Supercomputers without waste heat
07.12.2018 | Universität Konstanz
DF-PGT, now possible through massive sequencing techniques
06.12.2018 | Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.
Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.
Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...
New Project SNAPSTER: Novel luminescent materials by encapsulating phosphorescent metal clusters with organic liquid crystals
Nowadays energy conversion in lighting and optoelectronic devices requires the use of rare earth oxides.
Scientists have discovered the first synthetic material that becomes thicker - at the molecular level - as it is stretched.
Researchers led by Dr Devesh Mistry from the University of Leeds discovered a new non-porous material that has unique and inherent "auxetic" stretching...
Scientists from the Theory Department of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) in Hamburg have shown through theoretical calculations and computer simulations that the force between electrons and lattice distortions in an atomically thin two-dimensional superconductor can be controlled with virtual photons. This could aid the development of new superconductors for energy-saving devices and many other technical applications.
The vacuum is not empty. It may sound like magic to laypeople but it has occupied physicists since the birth of quantum mechanics.
06.12.2018 | Event News
03.12.2018 | Event News
28.11.2018 | Event News
07.12.2018 | Life Sciences
07.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
07.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy