From the Stone Age to Silicon Valley, materials have defined the technological capabilities of civilisations.
Professor Andre Geim at the University of Manchester in the UK is well acquainted with the toolbox available today. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for extending it with an exotic form of carbon known as graphene.
Unlike materials sourced from nature, graphene is a creation of science. It is peeled off graphite in honeycomb motifs as thin as a single atom. The quantum laws prevailing at these tiny scales cause electrons to move through graphene in unusual ways.
‘Graphene can be stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and as transparent as glass,’ said Prof. Geim. ‘It is unlike any substance found in nature.’
Now, as part of the ARTIMATTER project funded by the EU’s European Research Council, Prof. Geim is tailoring matter with even more outlandish features by stacking graphene on top of other atomically thin materials.
Mixing and matching two-dimensional layers made from different elements gives rise to remarkable physical properties. According to Prof. Geim, the right combination of building blocks can turn insulating materials into conductors, tune the colours that they absorb, and synchronise the behaviour of electrons inside them.
These capabilities stem from deep alterations in how the materials behave. Harnessed properly, they might overcome established barriers in modern electronics, such as reducing the response time of far-infrared detectors, or maybe even sustaining superconductivity at room temperature.
The novel building blocks also provide tools to test scientific theories and explore new phenomena. What we learn from their eccentricities could impact future technology as profoundly as semiconductor physics has transformed the computing and telecommunications sector today.
ocial benefits that such a technology could bring to emergency situations and the insight that basic building blocks could offer on physical, chemical and biological processes taking place at the nanoscale.
‘I have always been interested in finding the simplest way of doing something complicated,’ said Dr Capone. ‘It is often the best way to understand how it works.’
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Source: Horizon Magazine