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Stanford Engineers Envision an Electronic Switch Just Three Atoms Thick

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The structure of the flexible crystal material.

In the top panel, this three-atom thick crystal is shown as a semiconductor that is non-conductive. An outward tug on the material (shown in the middle panel) clicks the crystal into a metallic, or conductive, state. The third panel shows the crystal back in a non-conductive state.

Credit: Karel-Alexander Duerloo

Stanford University researchers have developed a flexible crystal material that can form a paper-like sheet just three atoms thick and behave like a switch.

Although the switching aspect of the material only exists in computer simulations, the researchers hope the work will inspire experimental scientists to fabricate the material and use it to create new electronic devices. They say the potential electronic material could reduce battery-draining power consumption in conventional devices.

Stanford University graduate student Karel-Alexander Duerloo says the switchable material is formed when one atomic layer of molybdenum atoms gets sandwiched between two atomic layers of tellurium atoms. The computer simulations show it only takes a small effort to change the atomic structure of this three-layer material from a non-conductive state into a conductive state. The crystalline lattice's switch-like behavior stems from its ability to be mechanically pulled and pushed back and forth between two different atomic structures--one that conducts electricity well, the other that does not.

The researchers hope future experimental scientists will explore possible uses of this three-atom-thick switch. In theory, such electronic materials could potentially reduce battery-draining power consumption in existing devices such as smartphones. The switch also could make the creation of smart apparel possible.

From Stanford Report (CA)
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