USF Research News

USF Physics Research Confirms Prediction of Electron Behavior

February 6, 2017

Finding published in prestigious journal Nature Communications could lead to new materials for electronic devices

Matthias Batzill Matthias Batzill

Tampa, Fla. – New research into the fundamental physics of electrons confined in a one-dimensional space has led University of South Florida researchers to discover a new material that could one day be useful in the creation of nanoscale electronic devices. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Matthias Batzill, a USF professor of physics who led an international team of researchers, said the research confirms one of the most controversial predictions in low-dimensional solid state physics: that the two main properties of the electron – its electric charge and its spin – start to behave as two separate entities when forced from a two- or three-dimensional space into one-dimension. The behavior of the collective properties of electrons in one-dimension has been termed spin-charge separation, and Batzill said while it has been theorized for some time, a proof of such behavior for metals has been missing.

“Our work shows strong evidence for spin-charge separation,” Batzill said.

“While the fundamental physics aspects of the behavior of electrons in one dimension are an important advancement of low-dimensional physics, the new material we created – a network of metallic truly one dimensional ‘wires’ – may also be interesting for future applications.”

Batzill said that in solid state physics, a metallic one-dimensional chain is not stable and would always restructure to form an insulator - in physics known as the Peierls transition. When the research team lowered the temperature to below -50 degrees Celsius, the metal transitioned to an insulator.

“If we can control this transition by an external stimulus (for example and electric field) one could make switching devices by moving from the metallic to the insulating state and vice versa,” Batzill said. “Thus new electronic devices could be made out of these structures that are close to the ultimate length scale in two directions of just a single atom.”

In all of electronic devices, the motion of electrons are manipulated to perform actions, Batzill said. Electrons in all microelectronic materials move in a three-or two- dimensional space, even in very small structures. In this project, researchers set out to study the movement of electrons when forced into a single dimension.

To illustrate the concept, Batzill described it like this: “For example think of standing in a line at the post office. Clearly a single person cannot just start running, only the whole line can move all together. So the movement of all people is correlated to each other. This is the same with electrons in one dimension instead of having single particle excitations the electrons now become correlated and this changes the fundamental physics of how electrons behave.”

USF Physics researchers Yujing Ma, Horacio Coy Diaz, Vijaysankar Kalappattil, Raja Das and Manh-Huong Phan are co-authors on the paper, along with researchers from France, China and Portugal.

To read their publication, click here.