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The discovery of what is essentially a 3-D version of graphene – the 2-D sheets of carbon through which electrons race at many times the speed at which they move through silicon – promises exciting new things to come for the high-tech industry, including much faster transistors and far more compact hard drives. A collaboration of researchers at the U.S Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered that sodium bismuthate can exist as a form of quantum matter called a three-dimensional topological Dirac semi-metal (3DTDS). This is the first experimental confirmation of 3-D Dirac fermions in the interior or bulk of a material, a novel state that was only recently proposed by theorists.

“A 3DTDS is a natural three-dimensional counterpart to graphene with similar or even better electron mobility and velocity,” says Yulin Chen, a physicist with Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) when he initiated the study that led to this discovery, and now with the Univ. of Oxford. “Because of its 3-D Dirac fermions in the bulk, a 3DTDS also features intriguing non-saturating linear magnetoresistance that can be orders of magnitude higher than the materials now used in hard drives, and it opens the door to more efficient optical sensors.”

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