Seeing is believing: Electrons really do flow like water

Scientists have long predicted that electrons can flow like water, but this behavior has never been observed. Now, Israeli scientists report in the latest issue of the journal Nature that they have observed this strange behavior for the first time, in a new study that could lead to low-power electronic devices.

Professor Shahar Irani, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, said: "Theory suggests that liquid electrons can do things that other types of electrons cannot. But to get clear and conclusive evidence that electrons can actually form a liquid state, we want to be able to see the flow directly."

For electrons to flow like a liquid, a more advanced conductor such as graphene -- a thin layer of carbon that is a single atom thick -- is needed. But visualizing the flow of electrons inside materials like graphene isn't easy, because doing so requires a special technology. The technology must be "strong" enough to peer inside the material; It also has to be gentle enough not to disrupt the flow of electrons.

Weizmann's team developed the technique, the Physicist Organization reported Monday. They have developed a nanoscale detector made of carbon nanotube transistors that can image flowing electrons with unprecedented sensitivity. Dr Joseph Surpicchio said: "This technique is at least 1,000 times more sensitive than other methods, allowing us to directly study phenomena that were previously only studied indirectly."

Seeing is believing: Electrons really do flow like waterProfessor Andre Kim's team at the University of Manchester in the UK has developed graphene channels that guide the flow of electrons, similar to the pipes that guide water. The researchers observed and imaged the graphene using carbon nanotube transistor detectors. They observed that electrons flow faster in the center of the channel. It flows more slowly on the walls.

The ability of electrons to flow like a liquid could lead to new types of electronic devices, including low-power devices that use hydrodynamic flow to reduce electrical resistance, the researchers said.

"Given the increasing power consumption of computing centers and consumer electronics, and the increasing impact of climate change, finding ways to allow electrons to flow with less resistance is imperative," the researchers explained.


We often talk about electricity, but is electricity really flowing? Textbooks tell us that current is simply the directional movement of charge, as free electrons transfer energy one by one. We also tend to think of electricity as a kind of visualization and don't really want to "see" how it "flows". But now scientists have confirmed that electrons can actually flow like water through a pipe, but this behavior has not been observed until now. One of the biggest uses of this visualization is that it can be used to develop more efficient electronic devices than ever before.

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