Roughly 90 years ago, we had the concept of a Wigner crystal for the first time, as it was introduced by the Hungarian theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner. We’re talking about a material made entirely out of electrons, and at first glance over the idea itself, it all seemed sci-fi.
But new research published in Nature reveals that it has all become a reality now. Scientists managed for the first time to create a Wigner crystal after arranging electrons into a honeycomb-like lattice.
First imaged evidence of the crystal
Imaging the crystal using a camera is next to impossible, but that didn’t stop scientists from looking for other solutions. They used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which is able to determine the exact location of electrons locked in grids by keeping an eye on their behavior after a tiny jolt of electricity.
Carmen Rubi, who is a physicist from Columbia University, declared as quoted by Futurism.com:
I think that’s a great advancement, being able to perform STM on this system.
Wikipedia describes the Wigner crystal very well:
A gas of electrons moving in 2D or 3D in a uniform, inert, neutralizing background will crystallize and form a lattice if the electron density is less than a critical value. This is because the potential energy dominates the kinetic energy at low densities, so the detailed spatial arrangement of the electrons becomes important.
Electrons are subatomic and also elementary particles. Judging by how much scientists know until now, electrons cannot be broken into other parts, although physics has granted the world a lot of surprises throughout history. There seems to be an entire and apparently infinite microscopic universe when it comes to the tiniest bits of matter – the subatomic world of particles.