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The Alluring “Magic Angle” of Twisted Graphenes

In the year 2004, it was discovered that you can take graphenes, intact sheets of carbon atoms, could be obtained from a block of graphite using a very common house object — a Scotch tape. This discovery won a Nobel Prize.

2018. Another big discovery has been made 14 years after the Nobel Prize-winning discovery. Pablo Jarillo-Herrero announced that his lab at MIT had discovered superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene. (I know, I know. It’s too much physics.) Basically, this is all about superconductivity.

The observation of superconductivity has created an unexpected playground for physicists. The practical goals are obvious: to illuminate a path to higher-temperature superconductivity, to inspire new types of devices that might revolutionize electronics, or perhaps even to hasten the arrival of quantum computers. But more subtly, and perhaps more important, the discovery has given scientists a relatively simple platform for exploring exotic quantum effects. “There’s an almost frustrating abundance of riches for studying novel physics in the magic-angle platform,” said Cory Dean, a physicist at Columbia University who was among the first to duplicate the research.
All this has left Jarillo-Herrero struggling to keep up with the demands of suddenly being out in front of a red-hot field that has already garnered its own name—“twistronics.” “Probably more than 30 groups are starting to work on it,” he said. “In three years it will be a hundred. The field is literally exploding.” Well, maybe not literally, but in every other way, it seems. He’s so swamped with requests to share his techniques and give talks that nearly tripling his speaking schedule has barely made a dent in the flow of invites. Even his students are turning down speaking offers. At the American Physical Society annual meeting in March it was standing room only at his session, leaving a crowd outside the doors hoping to catch snatches of the talk.
To tease out the startling observation, his group had to nail down a precise and dauntingly elusive twist in the layers of almost exactly 1.1 degrees. That “magic” angle had long been suspected to be of special interest in twisted bilayer graphene. But no one had predicted it would be that interesting. “It would have been crazy to predict superconductivity based on what we knew,” said Antonio Castro Neto, a physicist at the National University of Singapore. “But science moves forward not when we understand something, it’s when something totally unexpected happens in experiment.”

Does this make your brain hurt? I’m quite sure it will. Science might be brain-stretching, but its discoveries really make you amazed of the world.

Head over to Wired for more details about this study.

(Image Credit: 5W Infographics/ Quanta Magazine)


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