A team of theoretical physicists from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University is predicting that stanene, a single layer of tin atoms laid out in a two-dimensional structure, could conduct electricity with one hundred percent efficiency at room temperature. If the findings are confirmed they could pave the way for building computer chips that are faster, consume less power, and won't heat up nearly as much.

Stanene is an example of a topological insulator, a class of materials that conduct electricity only on their outside edges or surfaces. When topological insulators are just one atom thick, their edges conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency, forcing electrons to move in defined lanes, without resistance.

The team responsible for this work, led by Stanford physics professor Shoucheng Zhang, has studied several other structures which were later confirmed to be topological insulators, but if stanene is all they claim it is, then it would be a significant discovery because it would be the first topological insulator that is able to function at room temperature.

What's more, according to the team, when fluorine atoms are added into the atomic structures, the material could conduct electricity with perfect efficiency at temperatures as high as 100° C (210° F).

As with graphene, the main challenge in manufacturing such a material and testing its properties lies in producing sheets that are only a single atom thick. But if scientists can get past this hurdle, then its applications could be very exciting.

According to Zhang, a stanene-fluorine layer could be used to manufacture the internal electrical wiring of a microprocessor. This should vastly decrease the power consumption and heat production of computer chips, with a performance that exceeds that of the already promising graphene.

"Eventually, we can imagine stanene being used for many more circuit structures, including replacing silicon in the hearts of transistors," Zhang said.

A paper detailing the work appears in a recent edition of the journal Physical Review Letters.

Source: SLAC/Stanford University