Monday, August 1, 2011

Wiedemann-Franz Law: Physicists break 150-year-old empirical laws of physics

Apparatus from the original 1853 paper in which the Wiedemann-Franz Law was first established. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Bristol)

A violation of one of the oldest empirical laws of physics has been observed by scientists at the University of Bristol. Their experiments on purple bronze, a metal with unique one-dimensional electronic properties, indicate that it breaks the Wiedemann-Franz Law. 

In 1996, American physicists C. L. Kane and Matthew Fisher made a theoretical prediction that if you confine electrons to individual atomic chains, the Wiedemann-Franz law could be strongly violated. In this one-dimensional world, the electrons split into two distinct components or excitations, one carrying spin but not charge (the spinon), the other carrying charge but not spin (the holon). When the holon encounters an impurity in the chain of atoms it has no choice but for its motion to be reflected. The spinon, on the other hand, has the ability to tunnel through the impurity and then continue along the chain. This means that heat is conducted easily along the chain but charge is not. This gives rise to a violation of the Wiedemann-Franz law that grows with decreasing temperature.
The experimental group, led by Professor Nigel Hussey of the Correlated Electron Systems Group at the University of Bristol, tested this prediction on a purple bronze material comprising atomic chains along which the electrons prefer to travel.

Not only does this remarkable capability of this compound to conduct heat have potential from a technological perspective, such unprecedented violation of the Wiedemann-Franz law provides striking evidence for this unusual separation of the spin and charge of an electron in the one-dimensional world.

Professor Hussey said: "One can create purely one-dimensional atomic chains on substrates, or free-standing two-dimensional sheets, like graphene, but in a three-dimensional complex solid, there will always be some residual coupling between individual chains of atoms within the complex that allow the electrons to move in three-dimensional space.

Graphene is a two-dimensional crystal consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged hexagonally. (Credit: Berkeley Lab/U.S. Department of Energy)
The Nobel prize winning scientists Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov who discovered world's thinnest material graphene are now at the process of using it to produce fastest electronics. Graphene is a novel two-dimensional material which can be seen as a monolayer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It possesses a number of unique properties, such as extremely high electron and thermal conductivities due to very high velocities of electrons and high quality of the crystals, as well as mechanical strength.

Well, the opportunities for a faster electronics with devices like touch-screens, ultra-fast transistors and photodetectors are accelerated with such discoveries like graphenes and one-dimensional material like purple bronze! 

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