A team of scientists led by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley has demonstrated a powerful new technique that uses light to measure how electrons move and interact within materials. With this technique, the researchers observed exotic states of matter in stacks of atomically thin semiconductors called transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) moiré superlattices.
Their study, which was published in the journal Nature, is the first to prove that interactions between electrons play a significant role in how charge flows in TMD moiré superlattices.
“Moiré superlattices provide a unique method for introducing exotic electronic behavior in materials where they don’t typically exist,” said lead author Emma Regan, a doctoral researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the UC Berkeley physics department. “Understanding and engineering electronic behavior in quantum materials may provide new approaches for electronic devices in the future.”
In most materials, electrons move fast and rarely interact. But in previous studies, other researchers have shown that a moiré superlattice – which creates an energy landscape for electrons – can slow the electrons down enough that they feel interactions between each other.
“We suspected that these electron-electron interactions in TMD moiré superlattices are very strong – even stronger than what you would find in stacks of graphene,” said Regan.
Typically, physicists investigate electron-electron interactions by attaching wires to a material and measuring how easily electrical current flows. But in stacks of TMDs, electrons don’t flow easily between the wires and the material, which makes it difficult to understand how the electrons interact.
So the researchers turned to light instead.
The research team, led by senior author Feng Wang, fabricated the TMD moiré superlattice from atomically thin layers of tungsten diselenide and tungsten disulfide – two common semiconductors known for their ability to efficiently absorb and emit light. They then formed a device just 25 nanometers (25 billionths of a meter) thick by sandwiching the tungsten diselenide/tungsten disulfide moiré superlattice between boron nitride and graphene.
In Wang’s ultrafast nano-optics lab, the researchers shone lasers on the TMD device to observe how electrons flowed in the superlattice as they varied the number of electrons injected into the material. Wang is a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and professor of physics at UC Berkeley.