Elusive 'Electron Crystal' Phenomenon Directly Imaged For First Time Ever - ScienceAlert
Oct 13, 2021 1 min, 16 secs

The crystals show electrons pressed into a honeycomb-like 'material inside a material'.

Physicists have taken the first ever image of a Wigner crystal — a strange honeycomb-pattern material inside another material, made entirely out of electrons.

Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner first theorized this crystal in 1934, but it's taken more than eight decades for scientists to finally get a direct look at the "electron ice." The fascinating first image shows electrons squished together into a tight, repeating pattern — like tiny blue butterfly wings, or pressings of an alien clover. .

The researchers behind the study, published on Sept.

To see this in action, the researchers trapped electrons in the gap between atom-thick layers of two tungsten semiconductors — one tungsten disulfide and the other tungsten diselenide.

Sure enough, the once-speedy electrons stopped, settling into the repeating structure of a Wigner crystal.

The researchers then used a device called a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to view this new crystal.

To stop this, the researchers inserted a single-atom layer of graphene just above the Wigner crystal, enabling the crystal to interact with the graphene and leave an impression on it that the STM could safely read — much like a photocopier.

Now that they have conclusive proof that Wigner crystals exist, scientists can use the crystals to answer deeper questions about how multiple electrons interact with each other, such as why the crystals arrange themselves in honeycomb orderings, and how they "melt." The answers will offer a rare glimpse into some of the most elusive properties of the tiny particles.

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