In the heart of a computer, for example, is a tiny crystalline device designed to switch between two states that indicate different answers: ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ‘up’ or ‘down’, etc. The practical challenge is to find a mechanism that allows switching in a small, fast and inexpensive device .
One way forward could be this new technology designed by researchers at Tel Aviv University that proposes a way to store electrical information in the thinnest unit known to science .
From a million atoms to two atoms
Today’s next-generation devices consist of tiny crystals that contain only about a million atoms (about a hundred atoms in height, width, and thickness). With the new technological advance, the researchers were, for the first time, able to reduce the thickness of the crystalline devices to just two atoms . Therefore, it can significantly improve electronic devices in terms of speed, density and power consumption.
In the study, the researchers used a two-dimensional material: layers of boron and nitrogen one atom thick, arranged in a repeating hexagonal structure. In their experiment, they were able to break the symmetry of this crystal by artificially assembling two of these layers, as explained by Moshe Ben Shalom , from Tel Aviv University and couator of the study:
In its natural three-dimensional state, this material is made up of a large number of layers placed one on top of the other, with each layer rotated 180 degrees with respect to its neighbors (antiparallel configuration). In the lab, we were able to artificially stack the layers in a non-rotating, parallel configuration, which hypothetically places atoms of the same type in perfect overlap despite the strong repulsive force between them (resulting from their identical charges).
Ben Shalom notes that the presence of such a stable polarization in a two-atom-thick system could be very helpful in efforts to miniaturize non-volatile electronic devices. At the atomic scale, electrons can efficiently quantum tunnel through the two shells, and this tunneling mechanism can be used to rapidly read and write polarization. Looking longer term, it suggests that the lateral mechanical slippage and perpendicular polarization switching mechanisms observed in this study may even have applications beyond what we can predict today .