Scientists with the University of Chicago and Shanxi University announced they have created a way to use lasers to “simulate” a material that physicists have been drooling over for its potential technological applications for years.
The new method can be used to better understand how the material—known as a twisted bilayer lattice—works, and could perhaps point the way to new electronics or quantum technology.
The work was published in Nature.
A twist on tradition
Four years ago, scientists at MIT discovered a surprise twist: Thin sheets of ordinary carbon atoms can become a superconductor if you twist the sheets as you stack them.
Superconductors are a rare kind of material that is able to conduct electricity perfectly, with no loss at all. Scientists and engineers can dream up all sorts of uses for superconductors—they’re already the basis of MRIs—but they have significant limitations, including having to be cooled down below zero to work. Scientists hope that if they can fully understand the physics principles at play, they could design new superconductors that unlock all sorts of technological possibilities.
“Whenever anyone discovers a new class of superconductor, the physics world sits up and takes notice,” said Cheng Chin, professor of physics at the University of Chicago and a co-author on the new study. “But this one was especially exciting because it was based on such a simple and ordinary material as graphene.”
Graphene is about as simple as a material can get: it is a thin lattice of carbon atoms. Scientists leapt to explore possible applications, sparking a flood of research into a new field christened twisted electronics, or “twistronics.”
But despite how simple graphene is in some ways, it turned out to be somewhat difficult to study how it can superconduct when stacked in these twisted sheets. For example, scientists want to rotate the sheets in tiny increments and see what happens to the properties each time; but graphene sheets tend to stick to each other and will tear if they’re moved.