Applying innovative measurement techniques, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have directly measured the unusual energy spectrum of graphene, a technologically promising, two-dimensional form of carbon that has tantalized and puzzled scientists since its discovery in 2004.
Published in this week's issue of Science,* their work adds new detail to help explain the unusual physical phenomena and properties associated with graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arrayed in a repeating, honeycomb-like arrangement.
Graphene's exotic behaviors present intriguing prospects for future technologies, including high-speed, graphene-based electronics that might replace today's silicon-based integrated circuits and other devices. Even at room temperature, electrons in graphene are more than 100 times more mobile than in silicon.
Graphene apparently owes this enhanced mobility to the curious fact that its electrons and other carriers of electric charges behave as though they do not have mass. In conventional materials, the speed of electrons is related to their energy, but not in graphene. Although they do not approach the speed of light, the unbound electrons in graphene behave much like photons, massless particles of light that also move at a speed independent of their energy.
This weird massless behavior is associated with other strangeness. When ordinary conductors are put in a strong magnetic field, charge carriers such as electrons begin moving in circular orbits that are constrained to discrete, equally spaced energy levels. In graphene these levels are known to be unevenly spaced because of the "massless" electrons.
The Georgia Tech/NIST team tracked these massless electrons in action, using a specialized NIST instrument to zoom in on the graphene layer at a billion times magnification, tracking the electronic states while at the same t
|Contact: Mark Bello|
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)