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Physicists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have imaged electrons flowing viscously through a nanodevice, just like water flowing through a pipe. Long predicted but only now visualized for the first time, this curious new behavior for electrons has important implications for future electronic devices.
From roaring waves to swirling whirlpools, the flow of a liquid can be extremely rich. Such varied phenomena are the result of the many collisions that occur between the particles that make up a liquid, and is described by the physics of hydrodynamics. However, despite being negatively charged, electrons usually flow through a conductor like a gas in a randomized fashion essentially without repelling each other. This is because most conductors are made from materials that are highly disordered, and the electrons flowing inside collide more frequently with the many impurities and imperfections. To make electrons flow like a liquid, one needs a more advanced conductor, for example, graphene—a one atom-thick sheet of carbon, which can be made exceptionally clean. "Theories suggest that liquid electrons can perform cool feats that their ballistic or diffusive counterparts cannot. But to get a clear-cut proof that electrons can indeed form a liquid state, we wanted to directly visualize their flow," said Prof. Shahal Ilani, head of the Weizmann team in the Department of Condensed Matter Physics.
Electron - Flow - Material - Graphene - Technique
Visualizing hydrodynamic electron flow in a material like graphene isn't straightforward, though, as it requires a special technique that is simultaneously powerful enough to peer inside a...
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