The thermionic emission of electron plays an important role in both fundamental physics and digital electronic technology. Historically, the discovery of thermionic emission enables physicists to produce beams of free-flowing electrons in a vacuum. Such electron beams had been used in the hallmark experiment performed by Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer in the 1920s' to illustrate the wave-particle duality of electrons -- a bizarre consequence of quantum physics, which marked the dawn of the modern quantum era. Technologically, thermionic emission forms the core of the vacuum tube technology -- the precursor of modern-day transistor technology -- that enabled the development of the first-generation digital computer. Today, thermionic emission remains one of the most important electricity conduction mechanisms that governs the operation of billions of transistors embedded in our modern-day computers and smartphones.
Although the thermionic emission in traditional materials, such as copper and silicon, has been well-explained by a theoretical model put forward by British physicist O. W. Richardson in 1901, exactly how thermionic emission takes place in graphene, a one-atom thin nanomaterials with highly unusual physical properties, remains a poorly understood problem.
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Understanding the thermionic emission from graphene is particularly important as graphene may hold the key to revolutionizing a vast array of technologies, including computing electronics, biological sensor, quantum computer, energy harvester, and even mosquito repellent. Graphene and its broader family of atomically-thin nanomaterials -- also known as '2D materials' -- have been highlighted as the top 10 emerging technologies by the World Economic Forum in 2016.
Reporting in Physical Review Applied, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have discovered a general theory that describes the thermionic emission from graphene. By carefully studying the electronic properties of graphene, they have constructed a generalized theoretical framework that can be used to accurately capture the thermionic emission physics in...
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