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Magneto-optics of carbon nano-allotropes

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Bridging the knowledge gap for carbon nanostructures

EU-funded researchers made important advances in understanding the properties of carbon nanostructures that may lead to the evolution of tomorrow’s thin, flexible and powerful electronic devices so eagerly awaited by all.

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Graphene, whose pioneers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, is quite probably the wonder material of the century. A form of carbon, it was extracted as a carbon flake from ordinary graphite in pencils. In fact, this one-atom–thick sheet of carbon is said to be the strongest material ever measured. Given the tremendous strength exhibited in such a thin material together with its amazing conductivity, graphene could be used to produce the ultra-thin, super-powerful flexible electronic devices of the future. However, its potential to date remains just that; in particular, in regard to its ability to replace silicon in semiconductor devices. One of the main reasons is its inability to stop the flow of current or be switched off (it lacks a ‘band gap’ defining the gap between the valence band where electrons are bound and the conduction band where they are free to carry current). European researchers in the ‘Magneto-optics of carbon nano-allotropes’ (MOCNA) project set out to employ magneto-spectroscopy techniques to study the fundamental optical properties of nanostructures including graphene in large magnetic fields. Scientists focused on a phenomenon referred to as magnetophonon resonance (MPR), one of the most important methods for determining the band-structure parameters of semiconductors. MPRs arise from emission and absorption of resonant (uniformly vibrating) optical phonons by electrons in strong magnetic fields. Energy levels in strong magnetic fields as related to semiconductors are quantised into a set of so-called Landau levels. MOCNA scientists studied MPRs, inter-Landau level excitations and electron-phonon interactions in graphene with important results and implications for development of the first tuneable far-infrared laser. Investigators also studied magneto-optical phenomena in individual carbon nanotubes and in single quantum dot structures. MOCNA project results provided enhanced understanding of the fundamental properties of graphene and other carbon nanostructures that could have important impact on future development of devices based on the so-called wonder material of the 21st century. Thus, MOCNA may help position the EU as a leader in this remarkable new field of discovery.

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