Graphene, a sheet of pure carbon heralded as a possible replacement for silicon-based semiconductors, has been found to have a unique and amazing property that could make it even more suitable for future electronic devices.
Physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have found that when graphene is stretched in a specific way it sprouts nanobubbles in which electrons behave in a bizarre way, as if they are moving in a strong magnetic field.
Specifically, the electrons within each nanobubble segregate into quantized energy levels instead of occupying energy bands, as in unstrained graphene. The energy levels are identical to those that an electron would occupy if it were moving in circles in a very strong magnetic field, as high as 300 tesla, which is bigger than any laboratory can produce except in brief explosions, said Michael Crommie, professor of physics at UC Berkeley and a faculty researcher at LBNL. Magnetic resonance imagers use magnets less than 10 tesla, while the Earth's magnetic field at ground level is 31 microtesla.
"This gives us a new handle on how to control how electrons move in graphene, and thus to control graphene's electronic properties, through strain," Crommie said. "By controlling where the electrons bunch up and at what energy, you could cause them to move more easily or less easily through graphene, in effect, controlling their conductivity, optical or microwave properties. Control of electron movement is the most essential part of any electronic device."
Crommie and colleagues report the discovery in the July 30 issue of the journal Science.
Aside from the engineering implications of the discovery, Crommie is eager to use this unusual property of graphene to explore how electrons behave in fields that until now have been unobtainable in the laboratory.
"When you crank up a magnetic field you start seeing ver
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley