Research Matters

Research Matters

Curving electrons

Hui Zhao, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, has confirmed that spinning electrons curve as they pass through a semiconductor. His work could point the way to better detection and generation of spin currents in nanoscale devices and eventually more robust computers.

Episode #88

2 minutes (2.8 MB) | Download mp3


For first time, researchers detect the curving flight of a spinning electron. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

For years, physicists have predicted that electrons would curve through solid materials because every electron spins. But curving electrons have been impossible to observe because of their small size and speed — in fact their flight is measured in femtoseconds, or 100 millions of one billionth of one second. Now, for the first time, one scientist has observed the electron's curve. Hui Zhao is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at KU.

Zhao: We invented a new ultrafast laser technique. It allows us to take a snapshot every 100 femtoseconds with a resolution of 0.1 nanometers. So this can be viewed as an extremely high definition camera. It was not possible before this that you could watch an electron fly with such time and spatial resolution.

The curving effect of spinning electrons, now confirmed, could point the way to better detection and generation of spin currents in nanoscale devices, and eventually more robust computers. In fact, the cutting-edge research at Zhao's Ultrafast Laser Lab now will focus on materials that have more commercial applications.

Zhao: For the last 50 years, we've made each electronic device smaller and smaller, so that we can put a larger and larger number of devices on a silicon chip, called an integrated circuit. Now the size of each device is around 50 nanometers. There's not much room to shrink this down any further. We cannot play this trick again, so we need an entirely new technology to make our electronics and computers more powerful.

For more on curving electrons, log on to Research Matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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For first time, researchers detect the curving flight of a spinning electron


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