Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered a unique new twist to the story of graphene, sheets of pure carbon just one atom thick, and in the process appear to have solved a mystery that has held back device development.

Working at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), a DOE national user facility, a research team led by ALS scientist Aaron Bostwick has discovered that in the stacking of graphene monolayers subtle misalignments arise, creating an almost imperceptible twist in the final bilayer graphene. Tiny as it is – as small as 0.1 degree – this twist can lead to surprisingly strong changes in the bilayer graphene’s electronic properties.

Monolayers of graphene have no bandgaps – ranges of energy in which no electron states can exist. Without a bandgap, there is no way to control or modulate electron current and therefore no way to fully realize the enormous promise of graphene in electronic and photonic devices. Berkeley Lab researchers have been able to engineer precisely controlled bandgaps in bilayer graphene through the application of an external electric field. However, when devices were made with these engineered bandgaps, the devices behaved strangely, as if conduction in those bandgaps had not been stopped.

To get to the bottom of this mystery, Rotenberg, Bostwick, Kim and their co-authors performed a series of angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) experiments at ALS beamline 7.0.1. ARPES is a technique for studying the electronic states of a solid material in which a beam of X-ray photons striking the material’s surface causes the photoemission of electrons. The kinetic energy of these photoelectrons and the angles at which they are ejected are then measured to obtain an electronic spectrum.

Massless Dirac fermions, electrons that essentially behave as if they were photons, are not subject to the same bandgap constraints as conventional electrons. In their Nature Materials paper, the authors state that the twists that generate this massless Dirac fermion spectrum may be nearly inevitable in the making of bilayer graphene and can be introduced as a result of only ten atomic misfits in a square micron of bilayer graphene.

Beyond solving a bilayer graphene mystery, the researchers say the discovery of the twist establishes a new framework on which various fundamental properties of bilayer graphene can be more accurately predicted.

This story is reprinted from material from Berkeley Lab, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.