Development & Alumni Relations Office 


16 December 2016

Queen’s University physicists have discovered how electricity is conducted in a type of two-dimensional material – a breakthrough that could herald a new era in electronics.


The discovery has the potential to revolutionise the development of the tiny electronic devices that control everything from smart phones to transport and from banking to medical technology.


The team analysed the electrical conduction properties of ‘domain walls’ – sheets of material just one atom thick. Such sheets are a bit like the “wonder-material” graphene in the range of properties that they can display and in their 2-dimensional character. However, unlike graphene, they can be created and destroyed and moved from one place to another within the host crystal.


This dynamic behaviour can allow nanoscale electrical connections made using the sheets to be reconfigured, wiped clean or completely recreated.


Such dynamic reconfigurable nano-circuitry is heralded as opening the door to a completely new way of processing and manipulating data and information beyond Moore’s Law. However, a significant challenge facing the research community has been in developing a mechanistic understanding of how electrical conduction occurs in these sheets.


The Queen’s team has undertaken the first set of experiments to determine unequivocally the process by which electrical conduction along these mobile sheet materials occurs. The findings provide building blocks of information on such new 2D materials – a breakthrough that could revolutionise the future of electronics in the next century.


The team invented a new microscopy technique to analyse the electrical conduction properties of domain walls, sheets of material just one atom thick.


The research, led by physicists Professor Marty Gregg and Dr Amit Kumar at Queen’s School of Mathematics and Physics, is reported in Nature Communications (12 December 2016).


Professor Marty Gregg said: “Microelectronic devices are crucial to almost all aspects of modern life. Communications, healthcare, finance and entertainment are reliant on them. Constant demand for more powerful, smaller technology means that the tiniest devices are now composed of just a few atoms – a tiny fraction of the width of human hair. Eventually, it will become impossible to make these devices any smaller – we will simply run out of space.


“This is a huge problem for the computing industry and new, radical, disruptive technologies are needed. One solution is to make electronic circuits more ‘flexible’ so that they can exist at one moment for one purpose, but can be completely reconfigured the next moment for another purpose.”


Dr Amit Kumar added: “For decades, domain walls were ignored. With the emerging need for reconfigurable nano-circuitry, fundamental questions about the mechanism of conduction in these walls are being raised.


“To address these issues, we are the first team to map the differences in the particles that allow electrical conduction to occur with unprecedented nanometre precision by employing a new form of microscopy developed by our research team at Queen’s.”


The full paper, entitled ‘Hall effect in charged conducting ferroelectric domain walls’ is available at Nature Communications

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s University Communications Office - telephone +44 (0)28 9097 5310.


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