Discovery of Platinum-Tin Metal Could Lead to Light-Speed Green Computers

The breakthrough could change gadgets for good.

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Researchers have discovered a new metal that could revolutionize computing technology. Scientists at the Ames Laboratory revealed Monday that they have discovered a combination of platinum and tin (PtSn4) that can transport electrons almost as fast as the speed of light.

The material could one day be used to power computers and gadgets. A metal capable of moving electrons at that speed could be used to make processors faster than ever, or storage mediums capable of holding even more than ever before.

The scientists were working at the Ames Laboratory on the Iowa State University campus, a government-owned lab dedicated to supporting the Department of Energy’s Office of Science in its goals. The office supports wide ranges of research that “seek to unravel nature’s deepest mysteries” and work towards breakthroughs in energy technology.

This material’s special properties are possible thanks to something known as Dirac dispersion. Before this discovery, the only known instances of Dirac dispersion were contained in largely isolated points. In this new material, though, the points are far closer together. The groups form lines known as Dirac node arcs.

“This type of electron transport is very special,” Adam Kaminski, Ames Laboratory scientist, says in a release about the discovery. “Our research has been able to associate the extreme magnetoresistance with novel features in their electronic structure, which may lead to future improvements in computer speed, efficiency, and data storage.”

The team used a special machine, a laser-based angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) instrument, to discover the new material. The development of the machine has given the team unprecedented capabilities for working out which materials may hold unique properties.

“Combining [laser ARPES] with Ames Laboratory’s computational modeling abilities and our 80-year reputation in designing and growing new materials has led to our success in this discovery,” Paul Canfield, Ames Laboratory scientist, adds.

Kaminski and his team have published their research in the journal Nature Physics, in a paper entitled “Dirac node arcs in PtSn4.”