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Physicists produce world’s first sample of potential wonder-material: stanene

Physicists have been theorizing about its presence since 2013, but now it’s finally here in in real physical form: stanene, a fascinating new material made up of a one-atom dense web of tin. It is just like its much-hyped cousin, graphene - which is made of one-atom thick coatings of carbon - computer models forecast that stanene could conduct electricity without any heat loss. Actually, theories forecast that stanene could be the most effective material ever made when it’s conducting electricity. This material works in two-dimension, the material lets electrons to zoom along the boundaries of the mesh in a single path, bypassing the energy-sapping impacts that arise in three-dimensional materials to accomplish 100 percent efficiency. And hypothetically, it should work even at room temperature.
Image: Nature Materials (2015)

Because stanene could potentially allow electrons to travel uninterrupted, collisions root vibrations that produce heat and result in energy loss - wire made from this new material could transmit electricity across vast distances for lengthy periods of time without energy loss. Picture your smartphone, laptop, and chargers functioning for hours without ever getting hot.

If stanene lives up to the expectations that it can work at room temperature with 100 percent productivity, it will be the perfect case of a topological insulator, surpassing graphene as the best new material to make the electronics of the future.

But that’s a big "if". So far, the group of researchers that produced the material has not been able to approve that stanene has any of these properties at all, and the problem lies in the way that Zhang and his coworkers constructed it. A Physicist Ralph Claessen from the University of Würzburg in Germany, who was not the part of this study, told Chris Cesare at Nature Magazine that he’s not even certain that what Zhang and his coworkers produced is truly stanene, because the whole structure of the minute sample can’t be seen in its entirety.

Earlier in 2013, theories projected that stanene’s two-dimensional tin lattice would produce what’s called as a buckled honeycomb structure, which must comprise "alternate atoms folding upwards to form wavy edges", says Cesare. Right now, Zhang and his group can only see the upper ridge of these alternating atom, which means they cannot approve that it is a exact buckled honeycomb structure, but they told Nature Magazine  that the distance among the ridges they can see relate to what a buckled honeycomb structure should look like. The team has summarized the study in Nature Materials.

Graphene expert, Guy Le Lay, from Aix-Marseille University in France, says “We’re not there yet, but it’s a start, and that’s exciting enough in itself. It's like going to the Moon. The first step is the crucial step."

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