While bored at work yesterday I stumbled across a picture/summary of an article that appeared in the famed science journal Nature. The first pictures of Wigner Crystals have been taken.
What are Wigner Crystals?
Well, they’re the crystalline form thst electrons take in materials when the materials are cooled to near absolute zero. As absolute zero is approached, the electrons settle into an ordered, lattice structure to conserve energy. One form is that it looks like a honeycomb.
The article called it “electron ice”, which is a good descriptive term. Because it’s basically frozen electrons.
It was a pretty involved experiment, using atom thick layers of two semi-conductors (tungsten disulfide and tungsten diselenide). Then they applied an electric field across the gap between the two layers, cooled it to about -270 °C, added a single atom thick layer of graphene to protect the crystal, and used a scanning tunneling microscope to capture the image.
In other words, they scienced the shit out of this!
And in the process, they came up with photographic evidence that electron ice exists. As it was theorized 80 years ago by Hungarian scientist Eugene Wigner.
This sort of stuff makes my sciencey heart geek out. I have a materials degree, I get into geology and crystal structures, and I did a ton of electron microscopy in school. I love looking beyond what our eyes can see and our minds can fathom.
Here’s a picture I keep in my office. I took this picture in college using a transmission electron microscope:
What you are seeing is the atomic structure of 1-2-3 superconducting material. The little light and dark spheres in the picture are basically the atoms in the crystal structure. The rough edge at the top is where the material was broken so you can see the structure gets a bit disordered.
This picture is from 1990 or so. Ans now here we are. Pictures of electrons solidifying into a shape that was first floated as a theory in the 1930’s.
I mean, c’mon! Pictures of frozen electrons forming a honeycomb shaped lattice structure? Fucking ELECTRONS. The teensy particles zooming in orbits around atoms… ATOMS… which are the things that connect like tinker toys to build us. And they slowed down enough to settle into an ordered crystal structure.
And how cool is it that the electrons are making a structure that mimics what bees make on a grander scale. Honeycomb structures. Spirals. Fibonacci numbers. The golden ratio. Math. Science. Nature. Are all the same.
Everything is interconnected. And there is order and structure. And we’re seeing building blocks of the universe. But not even the tiniest building blocks as there are particles even smaller than electrons. SMALLER THAN ELECTRONS!
And then there’s us. And planets. And stars. And galaxies. And the infinite ness of the goddamn universe.
Nature is awesome— in the truest definition of that word.