Atomic Architects

Colourful layers

In 2018, Professor Brian Gerardot and his team took their research to the Royal Society in London to be part of the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. This week long festival celebrates the cutting edge of UK science. With a packed programme of events alongside more than twenty exhibits of hands on science and technology, there was something for everyone.

The Research

A surprisingly simple technique is making the creation of useful new nanoscale devices possible.

Using sticky tape, one can peel off single layers of atoms from a crystalline sample and re-stack them to create brand new crystal structures with unique properties. Get to grips with the atomic exfoliation technique at this exhibit, and learn about the future uses for new two-dimensional materials such as LEDs and quantum computing chips just a few atoms thick. 

Sixty years ago, the famous physicist Richard Feynman challenged scientists to work at the nanoscale. It was far-fetched at the time, but now his radical ideas have taken flight.  By peeling single layers of atoms from a crystalline sample, monolayers such as graphene can be created.  And beyond graphene, there is a whole range of crystals.  Different atomic layers can be precisely stacked to engineer manmade crystals with distinct and exotic electronic and optical properties. These unique materials may be used to miniaturise devices, and make them cheaper and more flexible, as well as developing completely new quantum technologies.

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Exfoliate a single layer of atoms from a material, and look at it through a microscope
  • Get hands-on with a large interactive model to create a layered ‘crystal’
  • Light up an LED made of a single sheet of atoms, then measure its efficiency

Find out more about this research at the Quantum Photonics Lab at Heriot-Watt University.