"Physicists at UCLA set out to design a better transistor and ended up discovering a new way to think about the structure of space.
Space is usually considered infinitely divisible — given any two positions, there is always a position halfway between. But in a recent study aimed at developing ultra-fast transistors using graphene, researchers from theUCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy and theCalifornia NanoSystems Institute show that dividing space into discrete locations, like a chessboard, may explain how point-like electrons, which have no finite radius, manage to carry their intrinsic angular momentum, or "spin."
While studying graphene's electronic properties, professor Chris Regan and graduate student Matthew Mecklenburg found that a particle can acquire spin by living in a space with two types of positions — dark tiles and light tiles. The particle seems to spin if the tiles are so close together that their separation cannot be detected.
The electrons in graphene move by hopping from carbon atom to carbon atom, as if hopping on a chessboard. The graphene chessboard tiles are triangular, with the dark tiles pointing "up" and light ones pointing "down." When an electron in graphene absorbs a photon, it hops from light tiles to dark ones. Mecklenburg and Regan showed that this transition is equivalent to flipping a spin from "up" to "down."
In other words, confining the electrons in graphene to specific, discrete positions in space gives them spin. This spin, which derives from the special geometry of graphene's honeycomb lattice, is in addition to and distinct from the usual spin carried by the electron. In graphene the additional spin reflects the unresolved chessboard-like structure to the space that the electron occupies."