Taming unruly electrons

 By Benjamin Plackett

Graphene has long been a source of fascination and discussion within engineering circles. That’s because it’s a far better conductor than the more traditional copper, but while electrons may fly through graphene at enviable speeds, no one could figure out how to stop them…

But now, scientists at Rutgers University in the United States have found a way to bring the unruly electrons in graphene to heel. They say this will pave the way for the ultra-fast transport of electrons with little loss of energy. Their study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Engineers have already used graphene to create ultra-fast amplifiers and super capacitors, but a graphene transistor had thus far escaped them.
Graphene is a very thin layer of the same graphite that you find in pencils. But its strength far outweighs that of steel and it is also a highly prized conductor.
“We can electrically control the electrons in graphene,” said study author Eva Y. Andrei from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University.

A sharp tip creates a force field that can trap electrons in graphene or modify their trajectories (Yuhang Jiang, Rutgers University)

“In the past, we couldn’t do it. This is the reason people thought that one could not make devices like transistors that require switching with graphene, because their electrons run wild.”
They were able to control the unruly electrons by sending a precision strike of voltage, just one atom thick, through the graphene with a special microscope. The blast creates a force field that entraps the electrons and modifies their trajectory into a manageable flow, making a graphene transistor theoretically possible.
This development could bring us closer to an all-graphene electronics device, say the researchers.
“If you change the voltage, you can release the electrons. So you can catch them and let them go at will,” explained Andrei.
The next stage of the research would be to build on Andrei’s work by integrating specialized wiring onto the graphene and then seeing if the technique holds true.
Graphene is often hailed as the ideal material for the future’s electronic devices, but it’s research like this that will help to push rhetoric into practicality.

READ MORE: From autumn leaves to high-tech electronics by Benjamin Plackett

about the author
Benjamin Plackett
I’m a journalist based in London. I report on all things science, tech, and health for a number of different publications. My work has been published by The Daily Dot, Inside Science and CNN among others. I earned my M.A. in Journalism at New York University and my B.Sci in Biology from Imperial College, London.