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Tuning the valley and chiral quantum state of Dirac electrons in van der Waals heterostructures

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Science  05 Aug 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6299, pp. 575-579
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4621

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Teasing out chirality in graphene

A chiral elementary particle has its spin pointing in either the same or the opposite direction as its momentum. In graphene, electrons have an analogous chirality, but observing it in electrical transport experiments is tricky. To do this, Wallbank et al. studied how electrons tunnel between two slightly misaligned graphene sheets separated by a layer of insulating hexagonal boron nitride. The chiral nature of the electrons imposed restrictions on the tunneling, which made it possible to discern the signatures of chirality in the data.

Science, this issue p. 575

Abstract

Chirality is a fundamental property of electrons with the relativistic spectrum found in graphene and topological insulators. It plays a crucial role in relativistic phenomena, such as Klein tunneling, but it is difficult to visualize directly. Here, we report the direct observation and manipulation of chirality and pseudospin polarization in the tunneling of electrons between two almost perfectly aligned graphene crystals. We use a strong in-plane magnetic field as a tool to resolve the contributions of the chiral electronic states that have a phase difference between the two components of their vector wave function. Our experiments not only shed light on chirality, but also demonstrate a technique for preparing graphene’s Dirac electrons in a particular quantum chiral state in a selected valley.

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