Always looking to get up in the face of physics, researchers at Princeton have found that electrons gliding across the surface of metals like antimony behave entirely too boldly.
As devices for information transmission and storage have gone from "kinda small" to "oops I lost it", several problems have come up, not the least of which is how to keep track of the damn things. More importantly than expensive device loss, however, is the fact that at very small scales, electrons have a hard time getting around unless the surface of the material they are on is perfect.
Not "perfect when we started dating but now STOP CHEWING WITH YOUR DAMN MOUTH OPEN ALREADY" perfect, but 100%, completely, totally perfect.
If at an atomic scale there are imperfections in the surface of the medium that the electrons are running around on - say for example a tiny, tiny crack - the electron will come to an abrupt halt like a horse that knows there is no good reason for them to go over that wooden jump with a rider on their back.
This lack of electron egress means that transmission rates of the little buggers across a surface can get bottlenecked, impeding conductivity or information transmission flow.
As it turns out, however, certain metals act in a way that gives electrons a new-found confidence, and sends them flying off atomic cliffs with reckless abandon, only to land safely on the other side. Using a scanning tunneling electron microscope built just for this purpose, Professor Ali Yazdani and his team were able to observe electrons moving along the surface of antimony, and saw them recklessly charging over cliffs and greatly enhancing the speed of transmission across the material.
Electron microscopes: now with tunneling and scanning.
The credit for such boldness apparently lies in a modified electron wave that occurs on the surface of the antimony, and alters the flow of electrons around the atomic edges and along the microscopic cliffs.
Antimony is a relatively new player in this game, and while it has been used in other applications, its ability as to alter electron waves was unknown. It had been postulated that a metallic crystal could, on its surface, achieve this kind of change in electron behaviour, and thanks to the dogged scientific work of the Princeton professor and his team, as well as their hugely cool electron microscope, the postulation went ahead and got confirmed.
Source: Princeton University