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Imaging resonant dissipation from individual atomic defects in graphene

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Science  08 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6368, pp. 1303-1306
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0877

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Watching electrons lose steam in graphene

Although graphene can be fabricated to be extremely clean, it still has a nonzero electrical resistance. Resistance is associated with turning electrons' energy into heat, but how exactly does this happen? Halbertal et al. used a tiny scanning temperature probe based on a superconducting quantum interference device to investigate this problem. As the current flowed through a square-shaped sample of graphene, electrons lost energy predominantly in the vicinity of atomic-scale defects, which were few and far between in the bulk but much more common on the edges of the sample.

Science, this issue p. 1303

Abstract

Conversion of electric current into heat involves microscopic processes that operate on nanometer length scales and release minute amounts of power. Although central to our understanding of the electrical properties of materials, individual mediators of energy dissipation have so far eluded direct observation. Using scanning nanothermometry with submicrokelvin sensitivity, we visualized and controlled phonon emission from individual atomic-scale defects in graphene. The inferred electron-phonon “cooling power spectrum” exhibits sharp peaks when the Fermi level comes into resonance with electronic quasi-bound states at such defects. Rare in the bulk but abundant at graphene’s edges, switchable atomic-scale phonon emitters provide the dominant dissipation mechanism. Our work offers insights for addressing key materials challenges in modern electronics and enables control of dissipation at the nanoscale.

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