Decades Old Mystery Solved: A “New Kind of Electrons”

Why do certain materials emit electrons with a very specific energy? This has been a mystery for decades — scientists at TU Wien have found an answer.

It is something quite common in physics: electrons leave a certain material, they fly away and then they are measured. Some materials emit electrons, when they are irradiated with light. These electrons are then called “photoelectrons.” In materials research, so-called “Auger electrons” also play an important role — they can be emitted by atoms if an electron is first removed from one of the inner electron shells. But now scientists at TU Wien (Vienna) have succeeded in explaining a completely different type of electron emission, which can occur in carbon materials such as graphite. This electron emission had been known for about 50 years, but its cause was still unclear.

Strange electrons without explanation

“Many researchers have already wondered about this,” says Prof. Wolfgang Werner from the Institute of Applied Physics. “There are materials that consist of atomic layers that are held together only by weak Van der Waals forces, for example graphite. And it was discovered that this type of graphite emits very specific electrons, which all have exactly the same energy, namely 3.7 electron volts.”

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