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New electronic materials to carry more energy, more efficiently

New quantum materials will one day make smartphones 1,000 times faster while drastically increasing battery life.

That is how Bishnu Dahal, a postdoctoral research associate in the South Dakota State University Department of Physics, describes the impact new semimetal materials could have on future electronics. He was part of a research group that formulated and tested one of these new materials.

Today’s electronics use electrons to carry charge, he explained. “Electrons have mass and carry charge fairly well, but, while in motion, they bounce into each other, losing energy and producing heat.” Dissipating heat is one of the major challenges for electronics, such as computers and cellphones.

Bishnu Dahal
Bishnu Dahal

Dahal helped develop a new cobalt-based Heusler alloy (Co2TiGe thin film) that can host massless particles, known as Weyl fermions, that are very efficient at carrying charge. “When the massless particles move through a circuit, there is no energy loss,” he said. In addition, the particles do not generate heat.

Dahal worked on the materials project as a postdoctoral research associate after completing his doctorate in physics with a specialization in material science at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In January 2018, he came to South Dakota State to work in the physics, material and nanoscale lab with Assistant Professor Parashu Kharel through the Patricia Noethe Pierce Post Doc in Physics Endowment.

During his first year at SDSU, Dahal helped analyze and compile the research results, which were published in the March edition of Scientific Reports, an online journal published by Nature Research. The research was funded by the Vitreous State Laboratory.

“There is a theoretical prediction that the cobalt-based Heusler alloy would exhibit Weyl semimetallic behavior and we verified this experimentally,” Dahal explained. “Very few compounds show this type of behavior.”

Developing new materials to replace silicon-based semiconductor materials is crucial to advancing electronics. The demand for greater computing power in a smaller package has surpassed the capacity of current semiconductor materials, according to IBM experts.

“This is very current research in the electronics field,” Dahal said. However, he pointed out, the road to commercializing new semiconductor materials is long. “What we are using in electronics now was developed, theoretically and experimentally, decades ago.”