Our Quantum Communications Hub colleague, Professor Brian Gerardot and his ‘Atomic Architects’ team from Heriot-Watt University recently took part in the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition which celebrates the cutting edge of UK science. Seven fast-paced but enjoyable days were spent at the Royal Society in London chatting to visitors of all ages about the excitement of atomically thin crystals for discovering new science and making new technologies.
With generous support from the Hub, the Atomic Architects team created an interactive exhibit to engage all audiences. Visitors could isolate single sheets of atoms by exfoliating (or peeling off) from a large crystal and examine their efforts with a microscope. To help visitors appreciate how many atomic layers they had exfoliated and why they were so colourful, a thin film interference demonstration was made using bubbles – a popular feature for younger visitors!
An eye-catching part of the exhibit was the large interactive Moiré wheel which, when activated by the push button and motor, would spin a top sheet of and atomic crystal relative to the bottom layer to produce a mesmerizing display of Moiré patterns. This model, along with some hand-held paper Moiré images, helped explain how atomic spacing and patterns affect the electronic and optical properties of materials and how atomic layers can be fine-tuned to make entirely new materials.
The final exhibit was an atomically thin LED made by one of the PhD students, Raphael Picard. The LED was popular with visitors: it looked visually arresting and visitors could see and hold the actual device. This led to interesting discussions about the future uses of a wide range of applications, from LEDs to quantum technologies. An accompanying video game (Atomic Architects - available on Android Play and Apple App Store as well as at the team's website) showed the challenges an electron faces in crystals to produce light - a popular game for kids of all ages!