mesoscopic physics


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Mesoscopic physics

A subdiscipline of condensed-matter physics that focuses on the properties of solids in a size range intermediate between bulk matter and individual atoms or molecules. The size scale of interest is determined by the appearance of novel physical phenomena absent in bulk solids and has no rigid definition; however, the systems studied are normally in the range of 100 nanometers (the size of a typical virus) to 1000 nm (the size of a typical bacterium). Other branches of science, such as chemistry and molecular biology, also deal with objects in this size range, but mesoscopic physics has dealt primarily with artificial structures of metal or semiconducting material which have been fabricated by the techniques employed for producing microelectronic circuits. Thus mesoscopic physics has a close connection to the fields of nanofabrication and nanotechnology. Three categories of new phenomena in such systems are interference effects, quantum size effects, and charging effects. See Artificially layered structures, Quantized electronic structure (QUEST), Semiconductor heterostructures

Interference effects

In the mesoscopic regime, scattering from defects induces interference effects which modulate the flow of electrons. The experimental signature of mesoscopic interference effects is the appearance of reproducible fluctuations in physical quantities. For example, the conductance of a given specimen oscillates in an apparently random manner as a function of experimental parameters (see illustration). However, the same pattern may be retraced if the experimental parameters are cycled back to their original values; in fact, the patterns observed are reproducible over a period of days.

Conductance of 2000-nm gold wire as a function of magnetic field measured at a temperature of 0enlarge picture
Conductance of 2000-nm gold wire as a function of magnetic field measured at a temperature of 0

Quantum size effects

Another prediction of quantum mechanics is that electrons confined to a particular region of space may exist only in a certain set of allowed energy levels. The spacing between these levels increases as the confining region becomes smaller. One striking phenomenon which arises from these quantum size effects is the steplike increase of the conductance of electrons flowing through a constriction of several hundred nanometers' width. See Energy level (quantum mechanics)

Another mesoscopic system that shows quantum size effects consists of isolated islands of electrons that may be formed at the appropriately patterned interface between two different semiconducting materials. The electrons typically are confined to disk-shaped regions termed quantum dots. The confinement of the electrons in these systems changes their interaction with electromagnetic radiation significantly.

Charging effects

Isolated mesoscopic solids such as quantum dots or metallic grains on an insulating substrate also show novel effects associated with the discreteness of the charge on the electron. Devices known as single-electron transistors (SETs) are by far the most sensitive electrometers (instruments for measuring electrical charge) presently known. See Electrometer, Transistor

mesoscopic physics

[‚mez·ə‚skäp·ik ′fiz·iks]
(physics)
A subdiscipline of condensed-matter physics that focuses on the properties of solids in a size range intermediate between bulk matter and individual atoms or molecules.
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