Imaging resonant dissipation from individual atomic defects in graphene

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Abstract

Conversion of electric current into heat involves microscopic processes that operate on nanometer length scales and release minute amounts of power. Although central to our understanding of the electrical properties of materials, individual mediators of energy dissipation have so far eluded direct observation. Using scanning nanothermometry with submicrokelvin sensitivity, we visualized and controlled phonon emission from individual atomic-scale defects in graphene. The inferred electron-phonon “cooling power spectrum” exhibits sharp peaks when the Fermi level comes into resonance with electronic quasi-bound states at such defects. Rare in the bulk but abundant at graphene’s edges, switchable atomic-scale phonon emitters provide the dominant dissipation mechanism. Our work offers insights for addressing key materials challenges in modern electronics and enables control of dissipation at the nanoscale.

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