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Physicists flip pencil lead into metaphorical ‘gold’

MIT physicists turn pencil lead into metaphorical "gold"
Artist’s rendition of the electron correlation, or potential of electrons to speak with one another, that may happen in a particular type of graphite (pencil lead). Credit score: Sampson Wilcox, MIT Analysis Laboratory of Electronics

MIT physicists and colleagues have metaphorically turned graphite, or pencil lead, into gold by isolating 5 ultrathin flakes stacked in a selected order. The ensuing materials can then be tuned to exhibit three vital properties by no means earlier than seen in pure graphite.

“It’s type of like one-stop buying,” says Lengthy Ju, an assistant professor within the MIT Division of Physics and chief of the work, which is reported within the Nature Nanotechnology. “On this case, we by no means realized that every one of those attention-grabbing issues are embedded in graphite.”

Additional, he says, “It is extremely uncommon to seek out supplies that may host this many properties.”

Graphite consists of graphene, which is a single layer of carbon atoms organized in hexagons resembling a honeycomb construction. Graphene, in flip, has been the main focus of intense analysis because it was first remoted about 20 years in the past. Then about 5 years in the past researchers together with a crew at MIT found that stacking particular person sheets of graphene, and twisting them at a slight angle to one another, can impart new properties to the fabric, from superconductivity to magnetism. The sector of “twistronics” was born.

Within the present work, “we found attention-grabbing properties with no twisting in any respect,” says Ju, who can also be affiliated with the Supplies Analysis Laboratory.

He and colleagues found that 5 layers of graphene organized in a sure order permit the electrons shifting round inside the fabric to speak with one another. That phenomenon, often called electron correlation, “is the magic that makes all of those new properties potential,” Ju says.

Bulk graphite—and even single sheets of graphene—are good electrical conductors, however that is it. The fabric Ju and colleagues remoted, which they name pentalayer rhombohedral stacked graphene, turns into rather more than the sum of its components.

MIT physicists turn pencil lead into metaphorical "gold"
MIT Postdoctoral Affiliate Zhengguang Lu, Assistant Professor Lengthy Ju, and Graduate Pupil Tonghang Han within the lab. The three are authors, with seven others, of a paper in Nature Nanotechnology a couple of particular type of graphite (pencil lead). Credit score: Ju lab, MIT

Novel microscope

Key to isolating the fabric was a novel microscope Ju constructed at MIT in 2021 that may shortly and comparatively inexpensively decide a wide range of vital traits of a fabric on the nanoscale. Pentalayer rhombohedral stacked graphene is only some billionths of a meter thick.

Scientists together with Ju had been in search of multilayer graphene that was stacked in a really exact order, often called rhombohedral stacking. Says Ju, “there are greater than 10 potential stacking orders while you go to 5 layers. Rhombohedral is only one of them.” The microscope Ju constructed, often called Scattering-type Scanning Nearfield Optical Microscopy, or s-SNOM, allowed the scientists to determine and isolate solely the pentalayers within the rhombohedral stacking order they had been fascinated by.

Three in a single

From there, the crew connected electrodes to a tiny sandwich composed of boron nitride “bread” that protects the fragile “meat” of pentalayer rhombohedral stacked graphene. The electrodes allowed them to tune the system with totally different voltages, or quantities of electrical energy. The consequence: they found the emergence of three totally different phenomena relying on the variety of electrons flooding the system.

“We discovered that the fabric might be insulating, magnetic, or topological,” Ju says. The latter is considerably associated to each conductors and insulators. Basically, Ju explains, a topological materials permits the unimpeded motion of electrons across the edges of a fabric, however not by the center. The electrons are touring in a single route alongside a “freeway” on the fringe of the fabric separated by a median that makes up the middle of the fabric. So the sting of a topological materials is an ideal conductor, whereas the middle is an insulator.

“Our work establishes rhombohedral stacked multilayer as a extremely tunable platform to review these new potentialities of strongly correlated and topological physics,” Ju and his co-authors conclude.

Along with Ju, authors of the paper are Tonghang Han and Zhengguang Lu. Han is a graduate scholar within the Division of Physics; Lu is a postdoctoral affiliate within the Supplies Analysis Laboratory. The 2 are co-first authors of the paper.

Extra info:
Tonghang Han et al, Correlated insulator and Chern insulators in pentalayer rhombohedral-stacked graphene, Nature Nanotechnology (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41565-023-01520-1

Physicists flip pencil lead into metaphorical ‘gold’ (2023, October 30)
retrieved 30 October 2023

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