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2D quantum mat'ls show potential for novel nanoelectronics

24 Nov 2014

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MIT researchers have revealed that they have performed a theoretical analysis that demonstrates a family of 2D materials that show unique quantum properties. According to the research team, the discovery could lead the path for a novel type of nanoscale electronics.

The materials are predicted to show a phenomenon called the quantum spin Hall (QSH) effect, and belong to a class of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, with layers a few atoms thick. The findings are detailed in a paper appearing this week in the journal Science, co-authored by MIT postdocs Xiaofeng Qian and Junwei Liu; assistant professor of physics Liang Fu; and Ju Li, a professor of nuclear science and engineering and materials science and engineering, MIT.

QSH materials have the unusual property of being electrical insulators in the bulk of the material, yet highly conductive on their edges. This could potentially make them a suitable material for new kinds of quantum electronic devices, many researchers believe.

MIT team's vision of a new kind of electronic device based on 2D materials

This diagram illustrates the concept behind the MIT team's vision of a new kind of electronic device based on 2D materials. The 2D material is at the middle of a layered "sandwich," with layers of another material, boron nitride, at top and bottom (shown in gray). When an electric field is applied to the material, by way of the rectangular areas at top, it switches the quantum state of the middle layer (yellow areas). The boundaries of these "switched" regions act as perfect quantum wires, potentially leading to new electronic devices with low losses. Illustration: Yan Liang

But only two materials with QSH properties have been synthesised, and potential applications of these materials have been hampered by two serious drawbacks: Their bandgap, a property essential for making transistors and other electronic devices, is too small, giving a low signal-to-noise ratio; and they lack the ability to switch rapidly on and off. Now the MIT researchers say they have found ways to potentially circumvent both obstacles using 2D materials that have been explored for other purposes.

Existing QSH materials only work at very low temperatures and under difficult conditions, Fu said, adding that "the materials we predicted to exhibit this effect are widely accessible. The effects could be observed at relatively high temperatures."

"What is discovered here is a true 2D material that has this [QSH] characteristic," Li noted. "The edges are like perfect quantum wires."

The MIT researchers said this could lead to new kinds of low-power quantum electronics, as well as spintronics devices, a kind of electronics in which the spin of electrons, rather than their electrical charge, is used to carry information.

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