The thinnest films of copper look flat, but they aren’t | Science News

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The thinnest films of copper look flat, but they aren’t

Newfound nanolandscape of valleys and ridges may impact efficiency of electronics

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2:00pm, July 27, 2017
microscope image of copper

COPPER PEAKS  A scanning tunneling microscope helped scientists catch the first-ever glimpse of the tiny peaks and valleys found on a thin sheet of copper. This section of metal is about 50 nanometers wide.

Like the surface of an alien planet, thin sheets of copper display a complex topography of ridges and valleys. These never-before-seen undulations may spell trouble for electronic gadgets: The zigzagging surface could contribute to the electrical resistance of miniature copper wires that snake throughout computer chips.

Using a scanning tunneling microscope, scientists observed nanoscale peaks and dips on a sheet of copper, with angles of a few degrees, researchers report in the July 28 Science. “When we saw that, we were absolutely shocked,” says materials scientist John Boland of Trinity College Dublin. Conventional wisdom was that the copper would lay mostly flat.

Copper and other metals are a conglomeration of smaller bits, known as grains. Within each grain, the atoms are neatly arranged, but at grain boundaries, the pattern is disrupted. In the type of copper the

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