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McGill physicists find a new state of matter in a 'transistor'
Date:10/21/2008

no up and down motion. There's a thickness, but they're stuck."

Until an accidental discovery during one of Gervais's earliest ultra-low temperature experiments in 2005, however, no one predicted the existence of quasi-three-dimensional electron crystals.

"We decided to tweak the two-dimensionality by applying a very large magnetic field, using the largest magnet in the world at the Magnet Lab in Florida," he said. "You only have access to it for about five days a year, and on the third day, something totally unexpected popped."

Gervais's "pop" was the startling transformation of a two-dimensional electron system inside the semiconducting material into a quasi-three-dimensional system, something existing theory did not predict.

"It's actually not quite 3-D, it's an in-between state, a totally new phenomenon," he said. "This is the kind of thing the theoreticians love. Now they're scratching their heads and trying to fine-tune their models."

The importance of this discovery to micro-electronics and computing could be profound. Since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, Moore's Law has powered the ever-accelerating home electronics, personal computer and Internet revolutions which have changed the world. But, Gervais explained, Moore's Law is not an irresistible force, and some time in the next decade, it will inevitably collide with the immovable object of the laws of physics.

"In a standard transistor, you have a gate and the electron flow is controlled by it like a a faucet would control a gas flow," he said. "You can understand the particles as independent units, which lets us treat them as ones and zeroes or on and off switches in digital computing.

"However, once you get down to the nano scale, quantum forces kick in and the electrons may condense into a collective state and lose their individual nature. Then all sorts of bizarre phenomena pop up. In some cases, the electrons may even
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Contact: Mark Shainblum
mark.shainblum@mcgill.ca
514-398-2189
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

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