The world’s thinnest technology – just two atoms thick

Innovative technology can significantly improve electronic devices in terms of speed, density, and power consumption.

Thinnest unit known to science
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have designed the world’s smallest technology, just two atoms thick. The new technology proposes a way to store electrical information in the thinnest unit known to science, in one of the most stable and inert materials in nature. The technology works through the use of an electron tunnel from quantum mechanics, which through the atomically thin film can drive the process of reading information far beyond current technologies.

The multidisciplinary research was conducted by scientists from the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry. The group includes Maayan Vizner Stern, Yuval Waschitz, Dr. Wei Cao, Dr. Iftach Nevo, Prof. Eran Sela, Prof. Michael Urbakh, Prof. Oded Hod, and Dr. Moshe Ben Shalom. The work is published in the journal Science.

Today’s next-generation devices have tiny crystals that contain about a million atoms (about a hundred atoms in height, width, and thickness). One million of these devices can be squeezed approximately one million times in the area of ​​a coin, and each device changes at a rate of approximately one million times per second. The researchers were now able, for the first time, to reduce the thickness of the crystalline devices to just two atoms, allowing information to move at a faster speed.

Playing with crystals
In the study, the researchers used a two-dimensional material: one-atom-thick layers of boron and nitrogen, arranged in a repeating hexagonal structure. In their experiment, they were able to break the symmetry of this crystal by artificially assembling two of those layers.

“In the lab, we were able to artificially stack the layers in a non-rotating parallel configuration, which hypothetically places atoms of the same type in perfect overlap despite the strong repulsive force between them (resulting from their identical charges).” explains Dr. Ben Shalom. “In fact, the crystal prefers to slide one layer slightly in relation to the other, so that only half of the atoms in each layer overlap perfectly, and those that overlap are of opposite charges, while all the others meet by above or below an empty space, the center of the hexagon. In this artificial stacking configuration, the layers are quite distinct from each other. For example, if only boron atoms overlap in the upper layer, in the lower layer it is upside down.”

Maayan Wizner Stern, the doctoral student who led the study, adds that, “The symmetry breaking that we created in the lab, which does not exist in natural crystal, forces the electrical charge to rearrange itself between the layers and generate a small amount internal electricity polarization perpendicular to the layer plane. When we apply an external electric field in the opposite direction, the system slides laterally to change the polarization orientation. The switched polarization remains stable even when the external field is off. systems three-dimensional ferroelectrics, which are widely used in today’s technology. ”

The team expects the same behaviors from many layered crystals with the correct symmetry properties, and they have named the promising concept of interlayer sliding as an original and efficient way to control advanced electronic devices “Slide-Tronics.”

“We hope that miniaturization and slippage will improve current electronic devices and further enable other original ways to control information in future devices. In addition to computing devices, we hope this technology will contribute to detectors, storage and conversion. of energy, interaction with light and more. Our challenge, as we see it, is to discover more crystals with new, slippery degrees of freedom. ” Wizner Stern concludes.

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