|Surprising Quasiparticle Interactions in Graphene|
Until now, the world’s electronics have been dominated by silicon, whose properties, while excellent, significantly limit the size and power consumption of today’s computer chips. In order to develop ever smaller and more efficient devices, scientists have turned their attention to carbon, which can be formed into nanostructures like nanotubes, whose properties can be tuned from metallic to semiconducting. However, using carbon nanotubes for complex circuits is nearly impossible because their location and functionality in devices cannot be controlled at will, making them a poor substitute for silicon. Graphene, however, does not have these limitations. This single sheet of carbon atoms that is the building block of carbon nanotubes, C60 molecules, and graphite turns out to have similar functionality but with the added benefit that it can be grown with conventional methods and patterned into devices. Now, a group of scientists from Germany and the ALS, using angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) at ALS Beamine 7.0.1, have succeeded in making the first measurement of the carrier lifetime in graphene over a wide energy scale and have found surprising new interactions that suggest new kinds of devices.
Graphene is an ideal playground for exploring quantum electrodynamic (QED) interactions in a solid system. While other materials have shown signatures of electrons interacting with phonons (vibrational excitations) or magnons (magnetic excitations), the carriers in graphene show clear signatures of scattering from phonons, plasmons (collective oscillations of electron gas), and electron–hole pairs over a much wider energy scale (2500 millivolts) than is usually treated.
The atomic arrangement and band structure of graphene has a most unusual topology consisting of two surfaces that touch each other at the so-called Dirac energy ED. Normally, ED coincides with the Fermi level EF, but if these energies are separated, then huge changes to the number of charge carriers can be achieved. This separation is readily accomplished by dosing graphene with atoms or molecules, or by imposing an electric field in a gated device. Since the many-body effects are sensitive to the charge density, graphene is a material in which the many-body interactions are readily tunable.
In the absence of many-body interactions, the bands appear conical. In reality, the charge carriers can decay by emitting plasmon or phonon excitations. Phonons are vibrational excitations whose effects are well known on the band structure: electron–phonon coupling causes a kink in the bands near EF. Plasmons are density oscillations in the electron sea that carry their own momentum, and decay by plasmon emission is normally forbidden in two-dimensional metals. However, the special energy–momentum relationships of electrons and plasmons allow such decay events in graphene. This results in a kink feature at ED as well as EF.
In the experimental Fermi surface and band structures of the graphene film, one can see not only the predicted kinks at ED and EF, but also the associated changes in the band's sharpness, which confirm the presence of decay events. Further information about the scattering came from varying the doping of the graphene film, which led to a tuning of the coupling strengths.
Understanding these decays is not just an academic subject; it is important because various forms of carbon have been shown to be superconducting, although the mechanisms are not completely clear. Furthermore, since plasmons can also couple to light, the demonstration of strong electron–plasmon coupling shows that novel carbon-based devices with both electronic and photonic functions might be possible.
Research conducted by A. Bostwick, T. Ohta, J. McChesney, and E. Rotenberg (ALS); T. Seyller and K. Emtsev (University of Erlangen, Germany); and K. Horn (Fritz Haber Institute, Berlin).
Research Funding: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES), and the Max Planck Society, Germany. Operation of the ALS is supported by BES.
Publication about this research: A. Bostwick, T. Ohta, Th. Seyller, K. Horn, and E. Rotenberg, "Quasiparticle dynamics in graphene," Nature Physics 3, 36 (2007).