Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UCB), in collaboration with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research through the joint Max-Planck-UBC Centre for Quantum Materials, had just created the world‘s first sample of superconducting graphene by coating the material with lithium atoms.
Even though superconductivity has already been observed in intercalated bulk graphite – three-dimensional crystals layered with alkali metal atoms, based on the graphite used in pencils – scientists have up until now been struggling to induce it in single-layer graphene.
“This first experimental realization of superconductivity in graphene promises to usher us in a new era of graphene electronics and nanoscale quantum devices,” said Andrea Damascelli, Director of UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute and lead scientist on the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The two main reasons for studying graphene – the so-called “wonder material” that’s roughly 200 times stronger than steel by weight – is to better understand its extreme properties, which eventually might lead to very fast transistors, semiconductors, sensors, transparent electrodes and other electronic components.
Bart Ludbrook, first author on the paper and a former PhD researcher in Damascelli’s group at UBC, explained that the discovery was made by decorating mono-layer graphene with a layer of lithium atoms, which enhanced its electron-phonon coupling to the point where superconductivity could finally be stabilized. The new-and-improved version of the material was made in ultra-high vacuum conditions and at ultra-low temperatures (5 K or -449 F or -267 C).
Considering the massive scientific and technological interest, turning single-layer graphene into a superconductor would have significant and far-reaching cross-disciplinary consequences. According to financial reports, the global market for graphene reached $9 million in 2014 with most sales happening in the semiconductor, electronics, battery, energy, and composites industries.