In his lab, LeRoy demonstrates the first and surprisingly low-tech step in characterizing the graphene samples: He places a tiny flake of graphite the stuff that makes up pencil "lead" on sticky tape, folds it back on itself and peels it apart again, in a process reminiscent of a Rorschach Test.
"You fold this in half," he explained, "and again, and again, until it gets thin. Graphene wants to peel off into these layers, because the bonds between the atoms in the horizontal layer are strong, but weak between atoms belonging to different layers. When you put this under an optical microscope, there will be regions with one, two, three, four or more layers. Then you just search for single-layer ones using the microscope."
"It's hard to find the sample because it's very, very small," said Jiamin Xue, a doctoral student in LeRoy's lab and the paper's leading author. "Once we find it, we put it between two gold electrodes so we can measure the conductance."
To measure the topography of the graphene surface, the team uses a scanning tunneling microscope, which has an ultrafine tip that can be moved around.
"We move the tip very close to the graphene, until electrons start tunneling to it," Xue explained. "That's how we can see the surface. If there is a bump, the tip moves up a bit."
For the spectroscopic measurement, Xue holds the tip at a fixed distance above the sample. He then changes the voltage and measures how much current flows as a function of that voltage and any given point across the sample. This allows him to map out different energy levels across the sample.
"You want as t
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University of Arizona