Researchers at Aalto University, Finland, have successfully manufactured artificial materials with engineered electronic properties. By moving individual atoms under their microscope, the scientists were able to create atomic lattices with a predetermined electrical response. These results bring 'designer quantum materials' one step closer to reality.
The goal of nanoscience has always been to control matter at the smallest possible scale: the atoms that make up all objects around us. Atomic manipulation was achieved over two decades ago using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), and controlled positioning individual atoms and molecules has since become a favourite in the STM toolbox. But the possibility to precisely arrange the atoms on a sample brings new opportunities. By arranging atoms in a lattice, it becomes possible to engineer the electronic properties of the material through the atomic structure.
A collaboration of three research groups at Aalto University has now made this exciting prospect a reality. Combining ideas from experimental and theoretical physics, the groups headed by Professor Peter Liljeroth (Atomic Scale Physics), Academy Research Fellow Teemu Ojanen (Theory of Quantum Matter) and Senior University Lecturer Ari Harju (Quantum Many-Body Physics) demonstrated control over electronic properties in important model systems.
The study was performed at Aalto University’s Department of Applied Physics and the groups are parts of the Academy of Finland’s Centres of Excellence in Low Temperature Quantum Phenomena and Devices (LTQ) and Computational Nanosciences (COMP). The Aalto Centre for Quantum Engineering (CQE), the Academy of Finland and the European Research Council (ERC) funded the research.