Once thought impossible, scientists give 2D material amazing power

11 Jun 2018

Image: GiroScience/Shutterstock

A whole new generation of electronic devices could be created after scientists proved everyone wrong about a 2D material’s ability to conduct electricity.

The history of our understanding of science has been defined by those moments when something that was once thought impossible was proven to be wrong, and now we can add another breakthrough to that list.

In 1965, Princeton University physicist Philip W Anderson put forward a theory that ferroelectric metals – which would experience spontaneous electric polarisation that can be reversed with an external electric field – could be created, despite not existing in nature.

His theory received critical praise among the world’s scientific community and would see him be named as a shared winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics, but the idea was considered impossible to replicate – until now.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, a team from Rutgers University showed findings that not only verified Anderson’s theory, but actually demonstrated the new 2D material in the lab.

Ferroelectric materials are a cornerstone of modern technology and are used extensively in electronic devices such as mobile phones, hard drives and ultra-sensitive sensors, but they do not conduct electricity.

New generation of devices

Taking on the challenge, Jak Chakhalian and his research team went about creating sheets of materials only a few atoms thick, adding metallic properties to an artificial crystal that conducts electricity.

Using two very thin layers to create a 2D metal, the team added the third layer with special properties to shift the atoms in that metallic layer, creating a ferroelectric-like metal with several functionalities built in.

“It’s exciting,” Chakhalian said. “We created a new class of two-dimensional artificial materials with ferroelectric-like properties at room temperature that don’t exist in nature, yet can conduct electricity. It’s an important link between a theory and an experiment.”

He added that with this new breakthrough, a whole new generation of devices and applications could be just over the horizon.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic