When it comes to super materials, graphene seems to get all the attention. But a team of researchers has developed stanene: a single layer of tin atoms that could just be the world's first material to conduct electricity with 100 per cent efficiency at the temperatures that computers work at.
Scientists from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have long been thinking about topological insulators. These things should conduct electricity just through their outside edges or surfaces, but not through their interiors. Make those materials one atom thick, and theoretically they can conduct electricity with 100 per cent efficiency — though in temperature conditions that aren't always useful.
But their calculations led them to realise that a single layer of tin would be a topological insulator at and above room temperature. Not just that, they reckoned that adding some fluorine atoms the mix would extend its 100 per cent efficiency operating range to at least 100C. Their theoretical modelling confirmed the hunch: stanene really could deliver. Shoucheng Zhang, a physics professor at Stanford and the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, explains:
"Eventually, we can imagine stanene being used for many more circuit structures, including replacing silicon in the hearts of transistors... [It could] increase the speed and lower the power needs of future generations of computer chips, if our prediction is confirmed by experiments that are underway in several laboratories around the world."
And right there is the only sticking point: so far, stanene remains bound to the lab, a prototype material that needs to undergo a hell of a lot of testing before we're certain it's the winner that the researchers claim it is. If the team can overcome the manufacturing challenges, though — like ensuring only a single layer of tin is deposited and making sure it remains in tact when it's used to manufacture components — then it might just be super conductor of the future. [Physical Review Letters via Kurzweil]