A study has found that the atomic structure of sodium atoms can be predicted, albeit with a lot of effort.
The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Physics B, found that a combination of chemical and optical methods is capable of finding the molecular structure of the sodium atom and its ions.
The findings provide an important first step towards building the most efficient semiconductor materials yet.
“For the first time, we have the ability to predict the structure of a material based on its chemical composition, and the optical method for the identification of its chemical structure,” said lead author, Prof. Dina Nave, from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“It is a huge breakthrough that has the potential to revolutionize the semiconductor industry.”
The research was carried out on an ionic crystal made up of three atoms, known as a polycrystalline sodium atom.
A polycrystal is an ion-rich material that consists of a large number of atoms that are bonded together.
The researchers used optical scanning tunneling microscopy to study the chemical structure of two of these atoms.
“It is surprising that the chemical composition of these sodium atoms is a known quantity,” said Prof. Nave.
“The crystal structure of these molecules is extremely complex, which means that we have to work extremely hard to find the chemical information of the crystal.”
The researchers then used the optical technique to create a 3D model of the chemical and atomic structure for the sodium molecule.
By analysing the crystal structure, they were able to identify the molecular properties of the three atoms.
The chemical properties of these two sodium atoms were very similar to the crystal structures of other semiconductor structures.
“In our case, the three sodium atoms are connected by a network of bonds and therefore, the physical properties of this molecule can be compared to the structure, even though we don’t have the exact information of their chemical structure yet,” said Dr. Yisrael Pfeffer, from Hebrew University, in a press release.
“The results provide us with an insight into the properties of materials that are made of these materials and therefore offer new possibilities for the manufacture of semiconductor devices.”
While the structure and chemical properties are similar to semiconductor material, the atomic structures of these three sodium atom are not.
“This is very surprising, since the chemical properties and atomic structures are quite different from those of a semiconductor,” said Nave in the press release, adding that the new information could help to create new materials.
The researchers say that their new discovery will be of particular importance for the development of a new semiconductor with an optical-assisted electronic layer, which is needed to replace the current semiconductor that relies on the chemical bonds of a crystal.
The research is published in Physical Review Letters.