Introducing Graphene's Younger Cousin: Stanene

Bright blue chemical molecular structures. Eugene Sergeev/Shutterstock.

Graphene, the super two-dimensional material, has some outstanding properties. It is 200 times stronger than steel by weight, and it can conduct heat and electricity with ease. 

But graphene might not be alone in the elite two-dimensional structure ranks for much longer, as it could soon be joined by its cousin: Stanene. This new compound on the block has some exciting and versatile properties that might just give graphene a good run for its money.

The compound was hypothesized two years ago, and researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University think that they have succeeded in making it. The results can be found in Nature Materials. Stanene is a two-dimensional compound. It has similarities to graphene, but instead of carbon atoms, stanene is composed of tin atoms. The tin creates a six-sided honeycomb structure, not dissimilar to graphene, that can be discerned at the nanoscale. 

The layer is supported by a structure composed of atoms of bismuth telluride, which can be seen in the side view of the following diagram. 

Front and side view of stanene's structure (red and blue) resting atop a supporting compound (cyan and gray). Feng-feng Zhu et al./Nature Materials.

But what makes stanene extra special? In theory at least, it has some properties that would make it especially suited to conducting electricity without wasting much energy creating heat. Electrons race down the edges of the stanene layer, bypassing the central lattice. As a result, they don't squander valuable energy interacting with other particles, which means that this material has potential applications in devices in many other fields. These conclusions come from predictions made back in 2013 by Shou-Cheng Zhang, the coauthor of this new stanene study. 

It is currently inconclusive that stanene has been created, according to other scientists. While the results so far are promising, with the distance between the layers of atoms consistent with the predictions, it will be clearer whether stanene has been created when scientists have the opportunity to image it using techniques such as X-ray diffraction. Unfortunately, these procedures require more stanene than the scientists have currently grown, so it will be some time before enough stanene can be made for these sorts of conclusive tests to be carried out.

However, the evidence so far is promising. So far, stanene is looking like the next big thing in two-dimensional materials. Let's hope that the reality will be able to live up to the hype.

Central Image: Stanene at the nanoscale with a discernible honeycomb structure. Feng-feng Zhu et al./Nature Materials.

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