A team of theoretical physicists from a number of institutes led by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC (National Accelerator Laboratory) have concluded that a single layer of tin atoms could be the world’s first material to conduct electricity with 100% efficiency. The new material has been named stanene which combines the latin word for tin - stannum with the suffix used in graphene.
Team leader Shoucheng Zhang from Stanford and his colleagues had earlier predicted that a class of materials known as topological insulators which conducts electricity only on the edges and not in the interiors could conduct 100% electricity if they are an atom thick. This is an unusual property which is a result of complex interactions between the electrons and nuclei of heavy atoms in them.
Several combinations predicted by the team were proven right during experiments conducted by others, yet none of the materials were a perfect conductor at room temperature. Later, calculations indicated that properties of a single layer of pure tin would make it a topological insulator at and above room temperature, and that adding fluorine atoms to it would extend its operating range to at least 100 degrees Celsius.
The team assumes that its first applications could be in wiring that connects many sections of a microprocessor. A few manufacturing challenges like ensuring only a single layer of tin is deposited and keeping that single layer intact during high-temperature chip-making processes needs to be overcome. In spite of this researchers are confident that stanene could very much be the substitute to silicon.