Great advancements for electronic gadgets in the

image: Donald Evans, Theodor Holstad and Dennis Meier from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are working together to create nanoscale networks for the future.
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Credit: Geir Mogen, NTNU

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have found a whole new method to verify the electronic properties of oxide materials. This opens the door to even smaller components and possibly more durable electronics.

“We have found a whole new way to control the conductivity of materials at the nanoscale,” says Professor Dennis Meier from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NTNU.

One of the best things about the new method is that it doesn’t interfere with other material properties like previous methods did. This makes it possible to combine different functions in the same material, which is an important advance for nanometric technology.

“What is really great is that this project is being carried out from NTNU and involves people from several departments. We also benefit from key facilities like the NanoLab and the TEM (transmission electron microscopy) Gemini Center. This interdisciplinary approach shows what we can do when we work together, ”says Meier.

A new article in the journal Natural materials addresses the conclusions. The article gained international attention before it even went to print.

The possibilities offered by the discovery were discussed in the August issue of Natural materials by leading experts in the field.

We rarely think about the technology behind turning on a light bulb or our use of electrical devices. Controlling charged particles on a tiny scale is just a part of everyday life.

But on a much smaller nanoscale, scientists are now able to regularly manipulate the flow of electrons. This opens up possibilities for even smaller components in computers and mobile phones that use virtually no electricity.

A fundamental problem remains, however. You can simulate electronic components at the nanoscale, but some of the more promising concepts seem to be mutually exclusive. This means that you cannot combine multiple components to create a network.

“The use of quantum phenomena requires extreme precision to maintain the right ratio of different substances in the material while changing the chemical structure of the material, which is necessary if you want to create artificial synapses to simulate the properties of nerve pathways such as that we know them from biology, ”Meier says.

Interdepartmental collaborative efforts, led by Prof. Meier, have succeeded in getting around some of these problems by developing a new approach.

“The new approach is based on exploiting ‘hidden’ irregularities at the atomic level, so-called anti-Frenkel flaws,” Meier explains.

Researchers have managed to create such defects themselves, allowing an insulating material to become electrically conductive.

The defects of the material are linked to its various properties. However, anti-Frenkel defects can be manipulated in such a way that changes in conductivity do not affect the actual structure of the material or alter its other properties, such as magnetism and ferroelectricity.

“Maintaining structural integrity makes it possible to design multifunctional devices using the same material. This is a big step towards new technology at the nanoscale, ”says Meier.

The research team includes Professor SM Selbach from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Professors Antonius TJ van Helvoort and Jaakko Akola and Associate Professors Per Erik Vullum and David Gao from the Department of Physics, and Associate Professor Jan Torgersen from Department of Mechanics and Industrial Engineer.

Another advantage of the new approach is that researchers can erase nanoscale components using a simple heat treatment. Then you can modify or upgrade the material components afterwards.

“Maybe we can use our electronic gadgets longer instead of recycling or throwing them away. We can just upgrade them instead. It’s basically a lot more environmentally friendly,” Meier says.

Planning is already underway for further attempts to combine different components. This work will be carried out by the FACET group of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering of NTNU.

The work is supported by the European Research Council through an ERC Consolidation Grant Meier received last year. The famous Center for Quantum Spintronics (QuSpin) is also involved. The goal is to use both the charge and the spin of electrons to provide us with a more environmentally friendly future.


Source: Evans, DM, Holstad, TS, Mosberg, AB et al. Conductivity control via minimally invasive anti-Frenkel faults in a functional oxide. Nat. Mater. (2020).

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