A team of Israeli scientists has announced fabricating the world's tiniest technology - an atomically thin film that is only two atoms thick. The new technology is intended to store electric information using one of the most stable and inert materials naturally available.

The researchers in the new breakthrough are from the Raymond and Beverly Sacker School of Physics and Astronomy and the Raymond and Beverly Sacker School of Chemistry from Tel Aviv University in Israel. Their work, titled "Interfacial ferroelectricity by van der Waals sliding," appears in the latest online issue of the Science journal.

Comparison of Boron-Nitride sheets and Graphene sheets to illustrate packing and structural difference
(Photo: Arist821 via Wikimedia Commons)

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In the Pursuit of Infinitesimally Small Materials

"Our research stems from curiosity about the behavior of atoms and electrons in solid materials, which has generated many of the technologies supporting our modern way of life," explains Dr. Moshe Ben Shalom, one of the study authors, in a press release from the university. He additionally explains that their team, as well as many others, attempt to understand and even control these interesting properties as they condense into crystals. Citing the computer, Dr. Shalom notes how a small similar device switches between two different states, such sa on or off, or yes or no.

Dr. Shalom explains that the real-world challenge is to find a mechanism that allows switching in a device, one that is small, fast, and inexpensive.

Currently available devices use small crystals that in themselves only have about a million atoms - approximately one hundred atoms high, wide, and thick. About a million of these nanocrystals are squeezed into an area about the size of a small coin, with each of these electronic devices switching at about one million times per second.

Building on this existing technology, researchers were finally able to reduce the thickness of a crystalline device to just two atoms. Dr. Shalom explains that this atomically thin film coil of only two atoms in thickness enables memories through the use of a phenomenon where electrons travel quickly through atomically thin barriers. Utilizing this phenomenon could lead to the next generation of electronics equipped with the tiniest technology: better speed, density, and energy consumption.

Fabricating the Tiniest Technology from 2D Materials

To create what is now the world's tiniest technology, researchers used a 2D material derived from boron and nitrogen atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice structure. They were able to break the repeating symmetrical structure by artificially assembling two layers of the 2D material. Dr. Shalom explains that in its natural 3D state, the material is made up of many layers stacked over one another, with each layer rotated 180 degrees from the position of its neighbors in an arrangement called an antiparallel configuration. A recent study published in the NPJ 2D Materials and Applications recognizes antiparallel stacked layers of hexagonal boron nitride as important building blocks for fabricating van der Waals - the same material and structure class used in the new tiniest technology.

In their experiments, they were able to artificially stack the layers of the 2D material in a perfect overlap. Hypothetically, the same atoms stack on top of each other despite the supposed presence of a strong repulsive force between them. However, in reality, the same atoms still slide one layer slightly to the side, which makes only half of the atoms overlap with each other.


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