Researchers have tamed wild electrons in graphene using a force field

23 Oct 2017

Image: TheCountryside Photo/Shutterstock

In a bid to make ultra-fast conductors, researchers have finally tamed the wild electrons typically seen in wonder material graphene.

The benefits of graphene have been well documented at this stage, with the one-atom-thick material proven to be particularly useful in forging wearable, foldable electronics.

Its one major downfall is that electrons flowing through have proven to be ‘wild’, ie when the electron flow begins, it can’t be stopped.

Now, however, a team of researchers from Rutgers University-New Brunswick has published a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, which says it has found a way to control them.

The original problem with graphene was that when electrons flow through it, they travel in a straight line with incredibly vast velocity, and most barriers that attempted to stop it were not strong enough.

Eva Andrei and her team of researchers managed to tame these wild electrons by sending voltage through a powerful microscope with an extremely sharp tip, also the size of one atom.

The microscope’s sharp tip creates a force field that traps electrons in graphene or modifies their trajectories, similar to the effect a lens has on light rays.

This means that electrons can easily be trapped and released, providing an efficient on-off switching mechanism.

Another piece in the puzzle

This latest breakthrough is another major piece of the puzzle towards the final completion of an all-graphene electronics platform, with components such as amplifiers, supercapacitors and ultra-low resistivity wires already developed.

“This shows we can electrically control the electrons in graphene,” Andrei said.

“In the past, we couldn’t do it. This is the reason people thought that one could not make devices like transistors that require switching with graphene, because their electrons run wild.”

She said that the next stage of her research will be to put nanowires on top of graphene to control the electrons with voltages.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic