Estreia de vórtices eletrônicos – fluxos de fluidos podem permitir a próxima geração de eletrônicos

Há muito esperados, mas nunca observados, os vórtices de elétrons semelhantes a fluidos podem ser aproveitados para a próxima geração de eletrônicos de baixa energia. Crédito: Kristen Danilov, MIT

Previsto há muito tempo, mas nunca observado antes, o comportamento fluido do elétron pode ser aproveitado para eletrônicos eficientes de próxima geração de baixa energia.

Embora as moléculas de água sejam moléculas distintas, elas fluem coletivamente como líquidos, criando correntes, ondas, redemoinhos e outros fenômenos fluidos clássicos.

Não é o mesmo com a eletricidade. Enquanto a corrente elétrica é similarmente composta de partículas distintas – neste caso, elétrons – as partículas são tão pequenas que qualquer comportamento coletivo entre elas é abafado por efeitos maiores quando os elétrons passam por metais básicos. No entanto, em certos materiais e sob condições específicas, esses efeitos desaparecem e os elétrons podem afetar diretamente uns aos outros. Nesses casos específicos, os elétrons podem fluir coletivamente como líquidos.

Agora, os físicos de[{” attribute=””>MIT and the Weizmann Institute of Science have finally observed electrons flowing in vortices, or whirlpools — a hallmark of fluid flow that theorists predicted electrons should exhibit, but that has never been seen before now.

“Electron vortices are expected in theory, but there’s been no direct proof, and seeing is believing,” says Leonid Levitov, professor of physics at MIT. “Now we’ve seen it, and it’s a clear signature of being in this new regime, where electrons behave as a fluid, not as individual particles.”

Reported on July 6, 2022, in the journal Nature, the observations could inform the design of more efficient electronics.

“We know when electrons go in a fluid state, [energy] A dissipação diminui, o que é importante na tentativa de projetar eletrônicos de baixa potência”, diz Levitov. “Esta nova observação é mais um passo nessa direção”.

Levitov é co-autor do novo trabalho de pesquisa, junto com Eli Zeldov e outros no Instituto de Ciências Weizmann em Israel e na Universidade do Colorado em Denver.

Fluxo de elétrons de ouro exótico de dicloreto de tungstênio

Na maioria dos materiais, como o ouro (à esquerda), os elétrons fluem com um campo elétrico. Mas os físicos do MIT descobriram que no exótico decloreto de tungstênio (à direita), as partículas podem inverter a direção e girar como um líquido. Crédito: Cortesia dos pesquisadores

pressão coletiva

Quando a eletricidade passa pela maioria dos metais e semicondutores comuns, o torque e os caminhos dos elétrons na corrente são afetados por impurezas no material e vibrações entre os átomos do material. Esses processos dominam o comportamento dos elétrons em materiais comuns.

Mas os teóricos especularam que, na ausência de tais processos clássicos comuns, os efeitos quânticos deveriam assumir o controle. Ou seja, os elétrons devem captar o comportamento quântico preciso um do outro e se mover coletivamente, como um líquido de elétrons viscoso e semelhante ao mel. Este comportamento tipo líquido deve aparecer em materiais ultrapuros e em temperaturas próximas de zero.

Em 2017, Levitov e colegas da Universidade de Manchester relataram assinaturas de um elétron semelhante a um fluido comportamento em grafenoE as[{” attribute=””>atom-thin sheet of carbon onto which they etched a thin channel with several pinch points. They observed that a current sent through the channel could flow through the constrictions with little resistance. This suggested that the electrons in the current were able to squeeze through the pinch points collectively, much like a fluid, rather than clogging, like individual grains of sand.

This first indication prompted Levitov to explore other electron fluid phenomena. In the new study, he and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute for Science looked to visualize electron vortices. As they write in their paper, “the most striking and ubiquitous feature in the flow of regular fluids, the formation of vortices and turbulence, has not yet been observed in electron fluids despite numerous theoretical predictions.”

Channeling flow

To visualize electron vortices, the team looked to tungsten ditelluride (WTe2), an ultraclean metallic compound that has been found to exhibit exotic electronic properties when isolated in single-atom-thin, two-dimensional form.

“Tungsten ditelluride is one of the new quantum materials where electrons are strongly interacting and behave as quantum waves rather than particles,” Levitov says. “In addition, the material is very clean, which makes the fluid-like behavior directly accessible.”

The researchers synthesized pure single crystals of tungsten ditelluride, and exfoliated thin flakes of the material. They then used e-beam lithography and plasma etching techniques to pattern each flake into a center channel connected to a circular chamber on either side. They etched the same pattern into thin flakes of gold — a standard metal with ordinary, classical electronic properties.

They then ran a current through each patterned sample at ultralow temperatures of 4.5 kelvins (about -450 degrees Fahrenheit) and measured the current flow at specific points throughout each sample, using a nanoscale scanning superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) on a tip. This device was developed in Zeldov’s lab and measures magnetic fields with extremely high precision. Using the device to scan each sample, the team was able to observe in detail how electrons flowed through the patterned channels in each material.

The researchers observed that electrons flowing through patterned channels in gold flakes did so without reversing direction, even when some of the current passed through each side chamber before joining back up with the main current. In contrast, electrons flowing through tungsten ditelluride flowed through the channel and swirled into each side chamber, much as water would do when emptying into a bowl. The electrons created small whirlpools in each chamber before flowing back out into the main channel.

“We observed a change in the flow direction in the chambers, where the flow direction reversed the direction as compared to that in the central strip,” Levitov says. “That is a very striking thing, and it is the same physics as that in ordinary fluids, but happening with electrons on the nanoscale. That’s a clear signature of electrons being in a fluid-like regime.”

The group’s observations are the first direct visualization of swirling vortices in an electric current. The findings represent an experimental confirmation of a fundamental property in electron behavior. They may also offer clues to how engineers might design low-power devices that conduct electricity in a more fluid, less resistive manner.

“Signatures of viscous electron flow have been reported in a number of experiments on different materials,” says Klaus Ensslin, professor of physics at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, who was not involved in the study. “The theoretical expectation of vortex-like current flow has now been confirmed experimentally, which adds an important milestone in the investigation of this novel transport regime.”

Reference: “Direct observation of vortices in an electron fluid” by A. Aharon-Steinberg, T. Völkl, A. Kaplan, A. K. Pariari, I. Roy, T. Holder, Y. Wolf, A. Y. Meltzer, Y. Myasoedov, M. E. Huber, B. Yan, G. Falkovich, L. S. Levitov, M. Hücker and E. Zeldov, 6 July 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04794-y

This research was supported, in part, by the European Research Council, the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development, and by the Israel Science Foundation.

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