Scientists Manipulate Electrons Into Material Never Seen on Earth

By Kristen Philipkoski on at

Stanford scientists have created designer electrons that behave as if they were exposed to a magnetic field of 60 Tesla—a force 30 percent stronger than anything ever sustained on Earth. The work could lead to a revolution in the materials that make everything from video displays to airplanes to mobile phones.

"The behavior of electrons in materials is at the heart of essentially all of today's technologies," said Hari Manoharan, associate professor of physics at Stanford and a member of SLAC's Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, who led the research. "We're now able to tune the fundamental properties of electrons so they behave in ways rarely seen in ordinary materials."

Moanoharan and his colleagues were inspired by the powerful properties of graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of densely-packed, bonded carbon atoms. They created the hand-crafted, honeycomb-shaped structures using a scanning tunneling microscope, which they used to place carbon monoxide molecules, one at a time, on a smooth copper surface. Carbon monoxide repels the electrons on the copper surface and forces them into a graphene-like honeycomb pattern.

The researchers then repositioned the carbon monoxide molecules on the surface so the electrons would behave as if they had been exposed to a magnetic field of otherworldly strength. Carbon monoxide molecules, which are black in the image, guide electrons, which are yellow-orange. Unlike ordinary electrons, they have no mass and travel at the speed of light as if they're in a vacuum.

The researchers say the material will be a powerful new test bed for physics. They hope to create lots more designer structures, as well as identify new nanoscale materials with unique electronic properties.The researchers report their work, which, incidentally, is very pretty to look at, in today's issue of Nature. [Nature]

Images: Manoharan Lab, Stanford/SLAC</em