A team led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has found a rare quantum material in which electrons move in coordinated ways, essentially “dancing.” Straining the material creates an electronic band structure that sets the stage for exotic, more tightly correlated behavior – akin to tangoing – among Dirac electrons, which are especially mobile electric charge carriers that may someday enable faster transistors. The results are published in the journal Science Advances.
“We combined correlation and topology in one system,” said co-principal investigator Jong Mok Ok, who conceived the study with principal investigator Ho Nyung Lee of ORNL. Topology probes properties that are preserved even when a geometric object undergoes deformation, such as when it is stretched or squeezed. “The research could prove indispensable for future information and computing technologies,” added Ok, a former ORNL postdoctoral fellow.
In conventional materials, electrons move predictably (for example, lethargically in insulators or energetically in metals). In quantum materials in which electrons strongly interact with each other, physical forces cause the electrons to behave in unexpected but correlated ways; one electron’s movement forces nearby electrons to respond.
To study this tight tango in topological quantum materials, Ok led the synthesis of an extremely stable crystalline thin film of a transition metal oxide. He and colleagues made the film using pulsed-laser epitaxy and strained it to compress the layers and stabilize a phase that does not exist in the bulk crystal. The scientists were the first to stabilize this phase.