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Current-driven atomic waterwheels


A current induces forces on atoms inside the conductor that carries it1. It is now possible to compute these forces from scratch, and to perform dynamical simulations of the atomic motion under current2,3,4,5,6. One reason for this interest is that current can be a destructive force—it can cause atoms to migrate, resulting in damage and in the eventual failure of the conductor. But one can also ask, can current be made to do useful work on atoms? In particular, can an atomic-scale motor be driven by electrical current7,8,9, as it can be by other mechanisms10,11,12,13? For this to be possible, the current-induced forces on a suitable rotor must be non-conservative, so that net work can be done per revolution. Here we show that current-induced forces in atomic wires are not conservative and that they can be used, in principle, to drive an atomic-scale waterwheel.

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Figure 1: Schematic of the system setup for modelling conduction in a nanoscale conductor.
Figure 2: Current-induced response of the corner atom in our bent atomic wire.


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We acknowledge valuable discussions with A. J. Fisher, J. Hoekstra, A. P. Sutton and D. Vanderbilt. This work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/C006739/1), and made use of HPCx, the UK national high-performance computing service (EPCC, University of Edinburgh; STFC Daresbury Laboratory; EPSRC).

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Correspondence to Daniel Dundas.

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Dundas, D., McEniry, E. & Todorov, T. Current-driven atomic waterwheels. Nature Nanotech 4, 99–102 (2009).

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