When Semiconductors Stick Together, Materials Go Quantum


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A team of researchers led by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has developed a simple method that could turn ordinary semiconducting materials into quantum machines—superthin devices marked by extraordinary electronic behavior.

Image Caption: A method developed by a Berkeley Lab-led research team may one day turn ordinary semiconducting materials into quantum electronic devices. (Credit: iStock.com/NiPlot)

Such an advancement could help to revolutionize a number of industries aiming for energy-efficient electronic systems—and provide a platform for exotic new physics.

The study describing the method, which stacks together 2D layers of tungsten disulfide and tungsten diselenide to create an intricately patterned material, or superlattice, was published online recently in the journal Nature.

“This is an amazing discovery because we didn’t think of these semiconducting materials as strongly interacting,” said Feng Wang, a condensed matter physicist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and professor of physics at UC Berkeley. “Now this work has brought these seemingly ordinary semiconductors into the quantum materials space.”

semicon2.jpgImage Caption: The twist angle formed between atomically thin layers of tungsten disulfide and tungsten diselenide acts as a “tuning knob,” transforming these semiconductors into an exotic quantum material. (Credit: Berkeley Lab) (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Two-dimensional (2D) materials, which are just one atom thick, are like nanosized building blocks that can be stacked arbitrarily to form tiny devices. When the lattices of two 2D materials are similar and well-aligned, a repeating pattern called a moiré superlattice can form.

For the past decade, researchers have been studying ways to combine different 2D materials, often starting with graphene—a material known for its ability to efficiently conduct heat and electricity. Out of this body of work, other researchers had discovered that moiré superlattices formed with graphene exhibit exotic physics such as superconductivity when the layers are aligned at just the right angle.

The new study, led by Wang, used 2D samples of semiconducting materials—tungsten disulfide and tungsten diselenide—to show that the twist angle between layers provides a “tuning knob” to turn a 2D semiconducting system into an exotic quantum material with highly interacting electrons. 

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