In Brief
  • Researchers have demonstrated how electrons travel on different elliptical paths by using a quantum crystal kept at low temperatures.
  • The discovery could lead to a new class of microchips far beyond the capabilities of today's silicon chips.

QUANTUM CRYSTAL

New developments from Princeton University and the University of Texas-Austin have revealed odd behavior in electrons that could lay the foundation for a new generation of faster microchips, according to a study published in Science.

Electronic systems react in different ways depending on surfaces they’re exposed to, and the study demonstrated when electrons on crystal bismuth are kept at very low temperatures, they spontaneously travel in identical elliptical paths.

This behavior is called a “quantum fluid state.” The quantum behavior was observed using scanning tunneling microscopy, where a tiny needle with electrical charge detects electrons as it sweeps through a crystal surface.

Credit: NIST
Credit: NIST

“This is the first visualization of a quantum fluid of electrons in which interactions between the electrons make them collectively choose orbits with these unusual shapes,” said Ali Yazdani, Princeton physics professor and leader of the research, according to Phys.org. “This is the first time the orbits of electrons moving in a magnetic field have been directly visualized.”

FUTURE OF ELECTRONICS

The development presents exciting new possibilities in an emerging field of semiconductor research called “valleytronics.” Instead of relying on the electrons’ spin or their charge to encode data, like traditional microchips, valleytronics exploits their energy level in relation to their momentum. The term arises from the observed “valleys” in graphs of

The term arises from the observed “valleys” in graphs of the energy of electrons versus their momentum. The valleys give microchips greater capacity than traditional silicon.

High switching rates and moving electrical charges around is the heart of electronic computing, and the crystal bismuth quantum liquid shows much potential. This could give way to faster microchips and more reliable, efficient computers.