By Justin Eure

UPTON, NY—In certain nanomaterials, electrons are able to race through custom-built roadways just one atom wide. To achieve excellent efficiency, these one-dimensional paths must be paved with absolute perfection—a single errant atom can stop racing electrons in their tracks or even launch it backwards. Unfortunately, such imperfections are inevitable.

Now, a pair of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich has proposed the first solution to such subatomic stoppage: a novel way to create a more robust electron wave by binding together the electron’s direction of movement and its spin. The trick, as described in a paper published November 16 in Physical Review Letters and featured as an Editor’s Selection, is to exploit magnetic ions lacing the electron racetrack. The theory could drive advances in nanoscale engineering for data- and energy-storage technologies.

“One-dimensional materials can only be very good conductors if they are defect-free, but nothing in this world is perfect,” said Brookhaven physicist Alexei Tsvelik, one of two authors on the paper. “Our theory, the first of its kind, lays out a way to protect electron waves and optimize these materials.”

The work relies on a model system called a Kondo chain, where flowing electrons interact with local magnetic moments within a material. Properly harnessed, this powerful interaction could allow materials to behave like perfect conductors and offer high efficiency.

Protecting the transport

“This bound spin-direction state is like our electron’s bicycle, keeping it rolling along powerfully enough to overcome bumps in the one-dimensional road.”

— Brookhaven physicist Alexei Tsvelik

Atom-wide channels only allow motion in one of two opposing directions: right or left. Electrons traveling through such a narrow path—racing along in what are called charge-density waves—can be easily reversed by virtually any obstacle.

“The wave rises like an electronic tsunami that is expected to carry electrons smoothly in one direction,” Tsvelik said. “But it turns out that this tsunami can be very easily pinned by disorder, by impurities in the material.”

This “tsunami” shifts direction through a conductivity-smothering phenomenon called backscattering—like a wave breaking against sheer cliffs. But while direction is easily reversed, another feature of the electron is much more resilient: spin. The spin of an electron—like a perpetually spinning quantum top—can only be described as either up or down, and it is impervious to simple imperfections in the material. The trick, then, is to teach the directional wave to lean on spin for support.

“As the electrons flow, they interact with magnetic moments embedded in the material—these pockets of intrinsic magnetism are the key to producing the bound state,” said Ludwig Maximilian University physicist Oleg Yevtushenko, the other collaborator on the paper. “The magnetic moments bind spin and direction tightly together, so any disturbance would need to flip the electron’s spin in order to change its direction.”

These rolling electron waves could then be described as right-moving with spin up, left-moving with spin down, and so on. In each instance, the direction is bolstered by spin.

Read more from Source: BNL Newsroom | Quantum Spin Could Create Unstoppable, One-Dimensional Electron Waves

Read the “Quantum Phase Transition and Protected Ideal Transport in a Kondo Chain” abstract at the American Physical Society:  Act Now