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Graphene, Gapped and Butterflied
The remarkable transport properties of graphene, such as the high electron mobility, make it a promising material for electronics. However, unlike semiconductors such as silicon, graphene's electronic structure lacks a band gap, and a transistor made out of graphene would not have an “off” state. Hunt et al. (p. 1427, published online 16 May; see the Perspective by Fuhrer) modulated the electronic properties of graphene by building a heterostructure consisting of a graphene flake resting on hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), which has the same honeycomb structure as graphene, but consists of alternating boron and nitrogen atoms instead of carbons. The natural mismatch between the graphene and hBN lattices led to a moire pattern with a large wavelength, causing the opening of a band gap, the formation of an elusive fractional quantum Hall state, and, at high magnetic fields, a fractal phenomenon in the electronic structure called the Hofstadter butterfly.
van der Waals heterostructures constitute a new class of artificial materials formed by stacking atomically thin planar crystals. We demonstrated band structure engineering in a van der Waals heterostructure composed of a monolayer graphene flake coupled to a rotationally aligned hexagonal boron nitride substrate. The spatially varying interlayer atomic registry results in both a local breaking of the carbon sublattice symmetry and a long-range moiré superlattice potential in the graphene. In our samples, this interplay between short- and long-wavelength effects resulted in a band structure described by isolated superlattice minibands and an unexpectedly large band gap at charge neutrality. This picture is confirmed by our observation of fractional quantum Hall states at filling and features associated with the Hofstadter butterfly at ultrahigh magnetic fields.