Future Electronics Could Use Quantum Liquid on Crystal Surface

Monday, October 24, 2016 - 14:51

Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Texas-Austin have conducted a study for the first time which illuminated an unusual collective behavior in electrons and suggesting new ways of manipulating the charged particles.

The study demonstrates that the electrons, when kept at very low temperatures where their quantum behaviors emerge, can spontaneously begin to travel in identical elliptical paths on the surface of a crystal of bismuth, forming a quantum fluid state, Science Daily reports.

"This is the first visualization of a quantum fluid of electrons in which interactions between the electrons make them collectively choose orbits with these unusual shapes," said Ali Yazdani, the Class of 1909 Professor of Physics at Princeton, who led the research.

"The other big finding is that this is the first time the orbits of electrons moving in a magnetic field have been directly visualized," Yazdani said. "In fact, it is our ability to image these orbits that allowed us to detect the formation of this strange quantum liquid."

Researchers are looking to other materials and mechanisms to increase silicon’s maximum capacity for information processing. Moving electrons among "pockets" or "valleys" of possible states created by the crystal is one area of progress has been in two-dimensional materials, which allow control of electron motion by breaking the particles away from the constraints of the underlying crystal lattice.

Some researchers are working on ways to apply this process in an emerging field of research known as "valleytronics." The team at Princeton used a scanning tunneling microscope to visualize electrons on the surface of a bismuth crystal at extremely low temperatures where quantum behaviors can be observed.

Due to the crystal's lattice structure, the researchers expected to see three differently shaped elliptical orbits. Instead the researchers found that all the electron orbits spontaneously lined up in the same direction, or "nematic" order. The researchers determined that this behavior occurred because the strong magnetic field caused electrons to interact with each other in ways that disrupted the symmetry of the underlying lattice.

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