To control electron behaviour, many semi-conductor materials require chemical doping, where small amounts of a foreign material are embedded in the material to either release or absorb electrons, creating a change in the electron concentration that can in turn be used to drive currents.
However, chemical doping has limitations as a research technique, since it causes irreversible chemical change in the material being studied. The foreign atoms embedded into the material also disrupt its natural ordering, often masking important electronic states of the pure material.
The NUS research team was able to replicate the effects of chemical doping in this study by using only external electric and magnetic fields applied to an atomically thin material, titanium diselenide (TiSe2), encapsulated with boron-nitride (hBN). The researchers were able to control the behaviour of the electrons accurately and reversibly, making measurements that had been theoretical up to now. The thinness of the two materials was crucial, confining the electrons within the material to a two-dimensional layer, over which the electric and magnetic fields had a strong, uniform effect.
“In particular, we could also drive the material into a state called superconductivity, in which electrons move throughout the material without any heat or energy loss,” Prof Castro Neto said.
Because they are atomically thin, two-dimensional superconducting materials would have advantages over traditional superconductors, in applications such as smaller, portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.
One specific goal of the NUS research team is to develop high-temperature two-dimensional superconducting materials. Current materials require an extremely cold temperature of -270°C to function, ruling out exciting applications such as lossless electrical lines, levitating trains and MRI machines.
The technique, which took the researchers two years to develop, will enable new experiments that shine light on high-temperature superconductivity and other solid-state phenomena of interest. With a wide range of materials awaiting testing, electric field doping greatly widens the possibilities of solid-state science.