Ultrathin 2-D metals get their own periodic table

Material profiles could help predict key properties of synthetic, atom-thick sheets

illustration of 2-D honeycomb

ULTRATHIN FILMS  Computer simulations reveal the properties of a little-studied group of synthetic materials: 2-D arrays of metal atoms arranged in honeycombs (illustrated), triangles or squares.


A new version of the periodic table showcases the predicted properties of 2-D metals, an obscure class of synthetic materials.

Arrayed in 1-atom-thick sheets, most of these 2-D metals have yet to be seen in the real world. So Janne Nevalaita and Pekka Koskinen, physicists at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, simulated 2-D materials of 45 metallic elements, ranging from lithium to bismuth. For each sheet, the researchers measured the average chemical bond length, bond strength and the material’s compressibility, how difficult it is to squeeze the atoms closer together. The team then charted those features in the new periodic table.

The new work, described in the Jan. 15 Physical Review B, could help researchers identify which 2-D metals are most promising for various applications, like spurring chemical reactions or sensing gases.

These metals are similar to previously studied 2-D materials, such as the supermaterial graphene (SN: 10/3/15, p. 7) and its cousin diamondene (SN: 9/2/17, p. 12). But whereas those materials were made up of covalent bonds — in which pairs of atoms share electrons — these 2-D metals are composed of metallic bonds, where electrons flow more freely among atoms. “It’s a whole new type of family of nanostructures,” Koskinen says. “Sky’s the limit, for what the applications could be.”

Like other superflat materials, some potential 2-D metals might exhibit exotic quantum qualities, such as 2-D magnetism or superconductivity, the ability to transmit electricity without resistance. Such properties may make those materials useful for quantum computing, says Joshua Robinson, a materials scientist at Penn State not involved in the work.

Nevalaita and Koskinen created three periodic tables that chart the properties of 2-D metals with atoms in triangular, square or honeycomb configurations. Using their trio of tables, the researchers discovered that the properties of 2-D metals were related to those of their 3-D counterparts. For instance, atoms of any given metal arranged in a triangular lattice typically had about 70 percent the bond strength of atoms in the 3-D version of that metal. Square and honeycomb lattices generally showed about 66 percent and 54 percent the bond strength of 3-D metals, respectively.

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The periodic tables revealed similar relationships between 2-D and 3-D metals in bond length and compressibility. These findings could allow researchers to get a quick profile of a 2-D metal that has never been created in the lab or in a computer simulation, just based on the well-known characteristics of its 3-D analog.

Nevalaita and Koskinen also compared the stability of 2-D metals whose atoms were arranged in the three different configurations. The researchers found that many 2-D metals were stable in triangular and honeycomb patterns, but not in squares. Future computer simulations could examine the electric and magnetic properties of these materials, Koskinen says. Knowing the stability and property profiles of 2-D metals could inform which materials scientists fabricate in the lab.

“This is the tip of the iceberg in the area of 2-D metals,” says Mauricio Terrones, a chemical physicist at Penn State not involved in the work.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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