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Scientists Measure Single Quantum of Heat

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IBM researchers have established experimental proof of a previously difficult-to-prove law of physics, and in so doing may have pointed to a way to overcome many of the heat management issues faced in today’s electronics. Researchers at IBM Zurich have been able to take measurements of the thermal conductance of metallic quantum point contacts made of gold. No big deal, you say? They conducted measurements at the single-atom level, at room temperature—the first time that’s ever been done.

The first measurement of a quantum of thermal conductance was achieved back in 1999 by researchers at the California Institute of Technology. This latest research differs in that it was able to make measurements at room temperature as opposed to very low temperatures.

These latest measurements provide further confirmation of the Wiedemann–Franz law, which predicts that the smallest amount of heat that can be carried across a metallic junction—a single quantum of heat—is directly proportional to the quantum of electrical conductance through the same junction. By experimentally confirming this law, it can now be used with confidence to predict and to explore nanoscale thermal and electrical phenomena affecting materials down to the size of few atoms or a single molecule.