Stanford researchers create exotic electrons that may lead to new materials, devices

Researchers from Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the first-ever system of “designer electrons” – exotic variants of ordinary electrons with tunable properties that may ultimately lead to new types of materials and devices.

“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 Science, 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.”

Their first examples, reported Wednesday in Nature, were handcrafted, honeycomb-shaped structures inspired by graphene, a pure form of carbon that has been widely heralded for its potential in future electronics.

Initially, the electrons in this structure had graphene-like properties. Unlike ordinary electrons, for example, they had no mass and traveled as if they were moving at the speed of light in a vacuum. But researchers were then able to tune these electrons in ways that are difficult to do in real graphene.

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