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Course 2014-2015: Problems of Nanophysics

Elsa Prada and Juanjo Sáenz


Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
February 4, 2015

1 Physics at the nanometer scale


This is a collection of questions and small problems for the first chapter of the course on Nanophysics:
Physics at the nanometer scale. You are only asked to answer the questions marked with an asterisk
(*). The rest of the questions are voluntary and might be useful for you as a guide for studying
this subject. The mandatory questions should be handed in (or mailed) to Juanjo Sáenz before
February 16th.
1. What do the prefixes micro-, nano-, pico- and mega-, giga-, tera- stand for?

2. Give a small definition of nanophysics and nanotechnology?

3. What is the spatial range for the phenomena ascribed to nanophysics (or nanotechnology)?

4. (*) In very general terms, what are and when do “quantum effects” matter (in nanophysics)?

5. (*) What is the typical size of an atom?

6. For the sake of comparison, what is the width of a human hair and what is the Planck length?

7. (*) What are the wavelength and frequency ranges of the visible light?

8. What is the smallest size your naked eye can perceive?

9. And with the help of an optical microscope? And with an electron microscope?

10. What famous scientist said: “There is plenty of room at the bottom”, and with what meaning?

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UAM Course 2014-2015 Problems of Nanophysics I 2

11. What is the smallest transistor size nowadays operational in our computers? How many tran-
sistors are there in our computers?

12. (*) A contemporary computer chip dissipates 54 Watts on an area of one centimeter square.
Assuming that transistor elements in succeeding computer generations require constant power
independent of their size (a hypothetical assumption), estimate the power that will be needed
for a one centimeter square silicon chip in 5 years. Base your estimate on the Moore’s Law
trend of doubling the transistor count every 1.5 years. (The industry is confident of continuing
this trend.)

13. The number of atoms in a device scales as L3 . If a transistor on a micron scale contains 1012
atoms, how many atoms are there then on a nanometer scale transistor?

14. Nanophysics is concerned with the study of phenomena and properties of nanoscale systems.
Give examples of nano-objects in three, two, one and zero dimensions (3D, 2D, 1D, 0D).

15. In nanophysics, what is the meaning of a “zero-dimensional” object?

16. (*) What is the room temperature in Kelvin degrees? To what thermal energy does it corre-
spond in meV (milielectronvolts)?

17. What is a dielectric?

18. What is the relative permittivity of a material?

19. Give a small definition of the (classical) capacitance. What is a (classical) capacitor?

20. (*) Imagine we make a quantum dot (QD) of radius R work as a “single electron transistor”.
Using the electrical charging energy definition U = Q2 /2C, where C is the QD self-capacitance
(C = 4πr 0 R, where r 0 is the dielectric constant of the medium in which the QD is im-
mersed), estimate how small it has to be to work at room temperature.

21. What is the Young’s modulus?

22. (*) The speed of sound in a solid material is v = (Y /ρ)1/2 , with Y the Young’s modulus and
ρ its mass density. Young’s modulus represents force per unit area (pressure stress) per frac-
tional deformation (strain), Y = (F/A)/(∆L/L). Young’s modulus is therefore a fundamental
rigidity parameter of a solid, related to the bonding of its atoms. For brass, Y = 90GP a. (a)
If we apply a pressure of 101kP a to one end of a brass bar of length L = 0.1m, how much
UAM Course 2014-2015 Problems of Nanophysics I 3

would we compress it? (b) If ρ = 104 kg/m3 for brass, what is the speed of sound in this
material? (c) What is the longitudinal resonant frequency of a 0.1m brass rod? (d) If one
could shorten a brass rod to 0.1 micron in length, what would be its corresponding frequency?

23. Simple harmonic oscillation occurs when a displacement of a mass m in a given direction, x,
produces an (oppositely directed) force F = –kx. The effective spring constant k has units of
N/m in SI units. According to Newton’s Second Law, F = ma = md2 x/dt2 . Applied to the
mass on the spring, this gives the differential equation

d2 x/dt2 + (k/m)x = 0. (1)

x = xmax cos(ωt + δ) is a solution of the equation for arbitrary amplitude xmax and arbitrary
initial phase angle δ, but only when the frequency ω satisfies certain condition. Which is it?
24. Following with the previous harmonic oscillator, one can see that the period of the motion is
therefore T = 2π(m/k)1/2 . The maximum values of the speed v = dx/dt and the acceleration
d2 x/dt2 are seen to be xmax ω and xmax ω 2 , respectively. The total energy E = U + K in
the motion is constant and equal to (1/2)kx2max . In nanophysics, which is needed when the
mass m is on an atomic scale, the same frequency ω = (k/m)1/2 is found, but the energies are
quantized in terms of an integer number n and the Planck’s constant (h = 6.67 × 10–34 Js).
Derive
p the total ienergy of the quantized harmonic oscillator. [Hint: use the ladder operators:
â = mω
p mω i
2~ (x̂ + mω p̂), ↠= 2~ (x̂ − mω p̂).]

25. (*) The Young’s modulus of a thin small rod can be expressed in terms of microscopic quanti-
ties if one compares the sound velocity v = (Y /ρ)1/2 with the wave velocity of a linear atomic
chain, thus providing a connection between macroscopic and nanometer scale descriptions.
To see this, consider a linear chain of N masses m spaced by springs of constants K, of length
a. The total length of the linear chain is thus L = N a. If the longitudinal displacement of the
nth mass from its equilibrium position is denoted by un , the differential equation (Newton’s
Second Law) F = ma for the nth mass is

md2 un /dt2 + K(2un − un+1 –un–1 ) = 0. (2)

A traveling wave solution to this equation is un = uo cos(ωt + kna). Here kna denotes
kx = 2πx/λ, where k is referred to as the wave number. (a) Substitute this solution into
the difference equation and provide the dispersion relation’ of this chain. (b) The highest
frequency, 2(K/m)1/2 , occurs for ka/2 = π/2 or k = π/a; where the wavelength λ = 2a, and
nearest neighbors move in opposite directions. For what value of k does the smallest frequency
occur? To what wavelength does it correspond? (c) Using the expansion of sin(δ) ≈ δ for
small δ, find the wave velocity in terms of a, K and m. (d) With it, prove that the Young’s
modulus can be expressed in terms of microscopic quantities if the atoms have spacing a,
mass m, and the interactions can be described by a spring constant K.

26. (*) In AFM, there exist techniques that are based not only on static beam deflection detec-
tion but also on cantilever vibration. To use them one should know the cantilever resonant
frequency.
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Let us consider an isotropic cantilever of mass m in the form of a parallelepiped of length L,


thickness h  L and width W  L. The beam is fixed at one end and, for simplicity, we
consider that the shape of the beam can be approximated by an arc of length L of a circle of
radius Rc  L (or θ ≡ L/Rc  1). We define ∆z(x, t) as the deflection at a distance x from
the fixed end at time t, which can be written as

x2
∆z(x, t) ≈ −∆z(L, t) (3)
L2
where ∆z(L, t) is the beam end deflection. The total elastic energy was found to be
 
1 4Y I 2
U≈ [∆z(L, t)] . (4)
2 L3

where Y is the Young’s modulus and I the moment of inertia of the cantilever’s cross-section.
(a) Determine the total kinetic energy, Ec , of an oscillating beam [Hint: Compute first, for
a given time t, the kinetic energy of a small beam element of length dx at a distance x
from the fixed end.]
(b) Obtain the equation of motion of the free end assuming there is no dissipation [Hint:
The time derivative of the total mechanical energy (kinetic plus potential elastic) must
be zero].
(c) Determine the free oscillation frequency ω0 of the cantilever.
(d) Estimate the effective spring constant keff and oscillation frequency of a typical Silicon
cantilever [Y ∼ 1.5 ∗ 1011 N/m2 , density ρm = 2330kg/m3 , L ∼ 100µm, W ∼ 30µm,
h ∼ 0.5µm]
27. What is the heat capacity C? And the thermal conductivity kT ?

28. Consider a body of heat capacity C (per unit volume V) at temperature T connected to a
large mass of temperature T = 0 by a thermal link of cross section A, length L and thermal
conductivity kT . The heat energy flow dQ/dt is kT AT /L and equals the loss rate of thermal
energy from the warm mass, dQ/dt = CV dT /dt. (a) Write the differential equation for its
temperature dT /T , and give its solution T (t) in terms of a thermal constant τth . (b) Under
isotropic scaling, how does τth behave with the body length L?