Introduction to Quantum Mechanics for Physicists and Engineers with AQME Nanotechnology has yielded a number of unique structures that are not found anywhere in nature. Most demonstrate an essential quality of Quantum Mechanics known as quantum confinement. The idea behind confinement is all about keeping electrons trapped in a small area. The sizes we’re talking about here for confinement have to be less than 30 nm for effective confinement. Quantum confinement comes in several flavors. 2-D confinement is only restricted in one dimension, and the result is a quantum well (or plane). These are what most lasers are currently built from. 1-D confinement occurs in nanowires. 0-D confinement is found only in the quantum dot.
One is probably wondering why confinement is so important. For one thing, it leads to new electronic properties that are not present in today’s semiconductor devices. Consider the quantum dot. The typical quantum dot is anywhere between 3-60 nm in diameter. That’s still 30 to 600 times the size of a typical atom. A quantum dot exhibits 0-D confinement, meaning that electrons are confined in all three dimensions. The only things in nature that have 0-D confinement are atoms. So a quantum dot can be loosely described as an ‘artificial atom’. This is vitally important because we can’t readily experiment on regular atoms. They’re too small and too difficult to isolate in an experiment. Quantum dots, on the other hand, are large enough to be manipulated by magnetic fields and can even be moved around with an STM or AFM. We can deduce many important atomistic characteristics from a quantum dot that would otherwise be impossible to research in an atom.
Confinement also increases the efficiency of today’s electronics. The laser is based on a 2-D confinement layer that is usually created with some form of epitaxy like Molecular Beam Epitaxy or Chemical Vapor Deposition. The bulk of modern lasers created with this method are highly functional, but ultimately inefficient in terms of energy consumption and heat dissipation. Moving to 1-D confinement in wires or 0-D confinement in quantum dots allows for higher efficiencies and brighter lasers. Quantum dot lasers are currently the best lasers available though their fabrication is still being worked out. Confinement is just one manifestation of quantum mechanics in nanodevices. Tunneling and quantum interference are the other two manifestations of quantum mechanics in the operation of, for example, scanning tunneling microscopes and resonant tunneling diodes, respectively.
Because of the importance of understanding quantum mechanics to understand the operation of nanoscale devices, almost every Electrical Engineering department in which there is a strong nanotechnology experimental or theoretical group and all Physics departments teach the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics and its application to nanodevice research. Within these courses one is first introduced to the concept of particle-wave duality (the photoelectric effect and the double-slit experiment), the solutions of the time-independent Schrodinger equation for open systems (piece-wise constant potentials), tunneling and bound states. The description of the solution of the Schrodinger equation for periodic potentials (Kronig-Penney model) naturally follows from the discussion of double well, triple well and n-well structures. This leads the students to the concept of energy bands and energy gaps and the concept of the effective mass that can be extracted from the precalculated bandstructure by fitting the curvature of the bands. The Tsu-Esaki formula is then derived so that having calculated the transmission coefficient one can calculate the tunneling current in resonant tunneling diode and Esaki diode. After establishing basic principles of quantum mechanics, the harmonic oscillator problem is then discussed in conjunction with understanding vibrations of a crystalline lattice and the concept of phonons is introduced as well as the concept of creation and annihilation operators. The typical quantum mechanics class for undergraduate/first year graduate students is then completed with the discussion of the stationary and time dependent perturbation theory and the derivation of the Fermi Golden Rule which is used as a starting point of a graduate level class in semiclassical transport. Yet another issue that is discussed sometimes in a typical quantum mechanics class is the concept of Coulomb Blockade.
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