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John O | March 2018

Gaps between layers of 2-D materials used to separate atoms at room temp

by josh perry, editor


researchers from the university of manchester (u.k.) have discovered that there are naturally-occurring gaps between the layers of 2-d materials can be used as subatomic sieves to separate atoms and demonstrated this process by pushing hydrogen isotopes through the spaces between heaxagonal boron nitride or molybdenum disulphide.


subatomic sieves were found between layers of 2-d materials.
(university of manchester)


this process was also demonstrated at room temperature, according to a report from the university.


“isotope separation is typically a highly energy intensive operation which is used in nuclear, medical and research sectors,” the report explained. “hydrogen and deuterium – isotopes of hydrogen – have the same size if considered as classical particles but are rather different in size as waves if their quantum nature is taken into account.”


it continued, “this sieving mechanism, known as quantum sieving, exploits an attribute known as the ‘particle-wave duality of matter’ – a well-known physics phenomenon. however, extremely low temperatures are typically required to observe it.”


the research was recently published in nature nanotechnology. the abstract read:


“atoms start behaving as waves rather than classical particles if confined in spaces commensurate with their de broglie wavelength. at room temperature this length is only about one ångström even for the lightest atom, hydrogen. this restricts quantum-confinement phenomena for atomic species to the realm of very low temperatures.


“here, we show that van der waals gaps between atomic planes of layered crystals provide ångström-size channels that make quantum confinement of protons apparent even at room temperature. our transport measurements show that thermal protons experience a notably higher barrier than deuterons when entering van der waals gaps in hexagonal boron nitride and molybdenum disulfide.


“this is attributed to the difference in the de broglie wavelengths of the isotopes. once inside the crystals, transport of both isotopes can be described by classical diffusion, albeit with unexpectedly fast rates comparable to that of protons in water.


“the demonstrated ångström-size channels can be exploited for further studies of atomistic quantum confinement and, if the technology can be scaled up, for sieving hydrogen isotopes.”

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