Physicists find a new state of matter in a 'transistor'

October 21, 2008

McGill University researchers have discovered a new state of matter, a quasi-three- dimensional electron crystal, in a material very much like those used in the fabrication of modern transistors. This discovery could have momentous implications for the development of new electronic devices. Currently, the number of transistors that can be inexpensively crammed onto a single computer chip increases exponentially, doubling approximately every two years, a trend known as Moore's Law. But there are limits, experts say. As chips get smaller and smaller, scientists expect that the bizarre laws and behaviours of quantum physics will take over, making ever-smaller chips impossible.

This discovery, and other similar efforts, could help the electronics industry once traditional manufacturing techniques approach these quantum limits over the next decade or so, the researchers said. Working with one of the purest semiconductor materials ever made, they discovered the quasi-three-dimensional electron crystal in a device cooled at ultra-low temperatures roughly 100 times colder than intergalactic space. The material was then exposed to the most powerful continuous magnetic fields generated on Earth. Their results were published in the October issue of the journal Nature Physics.

Two-dimensional electron crystals were discovered in the laboratory in the 1990s, and were predicted as far back as 1934 by renowned Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner.

"Picture a sandwich, and the ham in the middle is your electrons," explained Dr. Guillaume Gervais, director of McGill's Ultra-Low Temperature Condensed Matter Experiment Lab. "In a 2D electron crystal, the electrons are squeezed between two materials and they're very two dimensional. They can move on a plane, like billiard balls on a pool table, but there's no up and down motion. There's a thickness, but they're stuck."

Until an accidental discovery during one of Gervais's earliest ultra-low temperature experiments in 2005, however, no one predicted the existence of quasi-three-dimensional electron crystals.

"We decided to tweak the two-dimensionality by applying a very large magnetic field, using the largest magnet in the world at the Magnet Lab in Florida," he said. "You only have access to it for about five days a year, and on the third day, something totally unexpected popped."

Gervais's "pop" was the startling transformation of a two-dimensional electron system inside the semiconducting material into a quasi-three-dimensional system, something existing theory did not predict.

"It's actually not quite 3-D, it's an in-between state, a totally new phenomenon," he said. "This is the kind of thing the theoreticians love. Now they're scratching their heads and trying to fine-tune their models."

The importance of this discovery to micro-electronics and computing could be profound. Since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, Moore's Law has powered the ever-accelerating home electronics, personal computer and Internet revolutions which have changed the world. But, Gervais explained, Moore's Law is not an irresistible force, and some time in the next decade, it will inevitably collide with the immovable object of the laws of physics.

"In a standard transistor, you have a gate and the electron flow is controlled by it like a a faucet would control a gas flow," he said. "You can understand the particles as independent units, which lets us treat them as ones and zeroes or on and off switches in digital computing.

"However, once you get down to the nano scale, quantum forces kick in and the electrons may condense into a collective state and lose their individual nature. Then all sorts of bizarre phenomena pop up. In some cases, the electrons may even split. Concepts of 'on' and 'off' lose all meaning under these conditions."

"This issue is academic, but it's not just academic. The same semiconductor materials we're working with are currently used in cellphones and other electronic devices. We need to understand quantum effects so we can use them to our own advantage and perhaps reinvent the transistor altogether. That way, progress in electronics will keep happening ."

Article: … t/abs/nphys1094.html

Source: McGill University

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2 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2008
so, maybe we can create almost 'virtual' transistors and surpass the nanometer barrier altogether? I'm meaning that once we get down to using nano-electronics; that's it; but, this sounds like we can make transistors out of electrons themselves isntead of atoms; we could have holographic transistors; at which point, we could cram computers to far smaller distances within atoms themselves!?
2.6 / 5 (7) Oct 21, 2008
The onslaught of the coming singularity will know no bounds. Moore's Law will continue to hold even beyond the point in time where quantum effects on the nanoscale will bring a halt to progress by conventional means. This is because information processing capability has been increasing at an exponential rate since the advent of life on earth. In fact, Kurzweil indicates that even the rate of acceleration is increasing. The trend is VERY WELL established and WILL NOT BE denied.
3 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2008
Wow that is fascinating. What do you think spawned this newly discovered jewel?

Satan. ;-)
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 22, 2008
In 1938 Wigner added another paper and derived that a periodic array of localised, harmonic electron states will form within "non-ideal" metals: exactly those metals which superconduct. I have derived a consistent model for superconduction in terms of the coherent movement of such electron-orbitals after they have reached a high enough density. An orbital can then move from its own site and replace an adjacent orbital by borrowing energy (A la Heisenberg's uncertainty relationship for energy and time). In other words these charge-carriers move coherently since it is allowed by quantum fluctuations. This model also explains why an applied conservative electric-field becomes zero within a superconductor when superconductor initiates. The conventional models cannot explain this behaviour. The same mechanism explains superconduction within the "high-temperature" superconductors. In the latter cases two-dimensional harmonic orbitals form between the crystallogarphic layers from electrons which are donated by electronic donor states within the crystallogarphic layers. Nonetheless, the "high Priests" of superconduction has consistently blocked publication of this new model: And we think Galileo had problems!

It is thus not surprising that a three-dimensional Wigner crystal can also form within silicon. After all it is exactly this phase that has been responsible for superconduction in metals all along!
5 / 5 (7) Oct 22, 2008
johanfprins, can you make any predictions with your theory?, that would be the clincher.
2.3 / 5 (9) Oct 22, 2008
Yes I can. I can predict that the CuO ceramics will never be able to superconduct at room temperature. I can also predict which materials are candidates for superconduction at and above room temperature and how to tweak them to superconduct at these temperatures (have filed a provisional patent). I have experimental results to back this up: including a phase generated by extracting electrons into a vacuum which then superconducts at temperatures up to 1000 C (Yes Celsius!). This has been reported already in 2003, but is ignored because there are "no phonons" in such a phase.
The fact is that Cooper Pairs are NOT responsible for superconduction within materials but Wigner-orbitals are. However, the Priests controlling the field of superconduction find this claim just to horrible to contemplate! After all they celebrated the BCS model with great fanfare last year. Who am I to say that the Kaizer is actually walking around naked?
not rated yet Oct 22, 2008
Quote: "Who am I to say that the Kaizer is actually walking around naked?"
If you prove "the Priests" wrong, will you change your nick to johanfkaizer?
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2008
Hi Palli,

Good pun! But I would rather remain a simple prins. After all I do not like it to walk around naked in public.
not rated yet Oct 22, 2008
Hello johanfprins. As experimenter I can give you a tip. You can show very strong evidence for your theory. Make one rod or disk from room-temperature superconductor. I think you know how to do it. Then put the rod in strong magnetic field. It will begin to "levitate", because of the Meissner-Ochsenfeld's effect. Then all deniers will hush up and you will get Nobel's prize. Believe me.
4 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2008
Electrons will eventually be replaced by a smaller and better particle e.g. photon (or is that a wave).
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2008
Wow that is fascinating. What do you think spawned this newly discovered jewel?


1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2008
Hi Rossen,

When the superconductor consists of a cloud of electrons between a suitable substrate and an anode, it is difficult to "levitate": However, one can levititate magnetic powder around it and that has been observed and photographed! Unfortunately I am retired and without money to do this nexperiment myself. It has, however, been seen in another laboratory by another experimenter (I have seen the photographs). Unfortunately this experimenter has published for years on superconduction using Cooper Pairs to interpret his results. He is thus sitting on the evidence!
1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2008
Hi Googleplex,

The superconducting phase is a single wave of entangled electrons: i.e. it does not consist of an ensemble of single electrons; even though the initial constituents were single electrons!
1 / 5 (2) Oct 26, 2008
"...100 times colder than intergalactic space." appears to contain a category error. It's not exactly the equivalent of "a hundred times smaller than an average carrot." If it had read 1/100th of the CMB (cosmic microwave background)temperature it would have had specific meaning, in its present syntagmatic construction it is however completely meaningless unless adventitiously interpreted in a conflated bias.
Nov 25, 2008
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