This is almost too good to be true and the ramifications are only starting to be understood and even imagined. Is a layer of grapheme a heat barrier? Or can heat be directly converted to electron flow?
I have once conjectured that it might be possible to produce electron flow from metglass at low temperatures from the absorption of heat energy. This is just a superficial speculation that asks more questions than it answers but I thought it might lead somewhere. Perhaps once I get my Eden Machine skunk works up and running we can investigate the limits of that conjecture without spending much coin.
What brought that on at the time was the surprising behavior of electron flow on metglass. It allowed for the manufacture of much smaller starter motors for GM. It was my first eye opener to how little we understood the behavior of thin films, amorphous anything and electron flow and all that implied for technological advance. We are now starting to see the advances.
It almost makes you want to disappear into a laboratory to see what weird and wonderful things we could mock up. The whole area is still early stages and wide open.
Nanotubes wreak havoc with heat
Physicists in the US have discovered that electrons flowing in carbon nanotube-based circuits dissipate energy in much different ways than electrons flowing through devices made from conventional semiconductors such as silicon. The findings reveal processes of heat conduction that were never previously thought important, and could influence the types of materials chosen for the next generation of electronic devices in order to prevent them from overheating.
In conventional semiconductor devices, different layers of material are always joined by chemical bonds. This provides continuity for heat flowing through such devices, making them relatively easy to cool. Many researchers believe that future generations of electronic devices could be made from carbon nanotubes — tubes with walls just one atom thick — which could enable much smaller feature sizes and hence much better computing performance. However, nanotubes do not bond chemically to adjoining structures, which suggested that it should be very difficult to remove heat from such devices.
Bonding not needed
But now Phaedon Avouris and colleagues at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York and researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have found that electrons in nanotubes can dissipate energy straight to an adjacent substrate even though it is not chemically bonded.
The team has also found that current-carrying electrons in nanotube devices do not undergo the normal process of “thermalization”, in which a material’s thermal vibrations reach statistical equilibrium (Nature Nanotechnology doi:10.1038/nnano.2009.22).
Avouris and team studied a carbon nanotube on a silicon-dioxide substrate, an arrangement that acts like the active channel of a field–effect transistor. They have used a variety of techniques, including Raman scattering, in which the energy of scattered light reveals the different temperatures or “modes” of vibration of the nanotube lattice.
Normally when a current passes through a semiconductor the electrons bump into nearby atoms, which begin to vibrate in a certain mode. This mode then gradually transfers its energy to atoms at lower temperature modes until, at thermalization, all atoms are vibrating in statistical equilibrium.
The researchers have shown that, in nanotubes, thermalization does not take place; the atoms continue to vibrate in the same mode and statistical equilibrium is never reached.
Just as surprising, however, is that the lack of chemical bonding to the substrate does not inhibit heat conduction. The team has shown that when the electrons collide with atoms in the silicon dioxide, which is a polar material, the subsequent shift in position of the atoms generates an electric field that extends beyond the substrate and into the nanotube.
Scientists were aware of this process of remote heat conduction before, but had never before considered it important because they had focused on 2D and 3D materials in which the effect is much weaker. But Avouris told physicsworld.com that the other unusual mechanism — the absence of thermalization — could exist in other materials, and that it may have been overlooked because researchers have not had the right observational tools.