Change is constant, and nowhere is that truer than in the realm of technology.
An Ohio State research team has found a powerful new material that will change the way free electrons — particles with negative electric charges — interact within complex electronics.
Described as a single crystalline structure, the material NaSn2As2 was discovered while working with 2-D and 3-D layered materials.
“The goal of the project was to look at what was in between these layers of atoms and how it varies,” Joseph Heremans, co-author of the study and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said.
The team’s experiments initially focused on the strength of electrical properties between electrons but took a turn when researchers discovered that the new material could switch between positively and negatively charged electrons.
“With this invention, you can make out of one material the same things that you needed three materials for in the past,” Heremans said.
From the trillions of transistors in cellphones to electronic thermal sensors and generators, this discovery could enable new kinds of advancements in technology with fewer resources, Heremans said.
Bin He, study co-author and a graduate student in mechanical engineering, has been working with thermal measurements for three years to predict the electrons’ path.
“Electrical measurements are relatively easy on thin films, but with thermal we have to be kind of careful,” He said. “In principle, we can make some kind of new electronic device out of it.”
After making the initial discovery of the material, He tested it numerous times before concluding it was the structure, and not a mistake, that allowed it to act as a semiconductor.
Afterward, one of the most important parts of the project was making samples and repeating the experiment, Heremans said.
“When you have something like this you have to repeat it,” Heremans said. “We have another rule. If you think you know how an effect works, you have to also make it go away.”
Earlier this month, their research was published in the journal Nature Materials after receiving funding from the National Science Foundation.
While the material has not been used outside of the lab, the potential for new technology isn’t dying out anytime soon.
“As a graduate student, you have to figure it out if you see some new phenomenon,” He said. “It’s very exciting, so it’s kind of like shining a light on the next step that our collaborators are working on.”