Alex Zettl
Professor of Physics
Department of Physics
(510) 642-4939

Research Expertise and Interest

physics, condensed matter physics, fullerenes, condensed matter experiments, characterize novel materials with unusual electronic and magnetic ground states, low-dimensional and nanoscale structures, superconductors, giant magnetoresistance materials, nanotubes, graphene, boron nitride nanostructures, neural probes, NEMS.


My research interests are in experimental condensed matter physics. We synthesize and characterize novel materials with unusual electronic and magnetic ground states, including low-dimensional and nanoscale structures. Examples are charge- and spin-density-wave conductors, superconductors, giant magnetoresistance materials, fullerenes, and nanotubes. Experimental characterization techniques include structural measurements (TEM, X-ray scattering) and the examination of general transport coefficients (dc and high frequency conductivity, Hall effect, thermal conductivity, thermopower), high magnetic field studies, high pressure effects, and velocity of sound. In addition we operate a high magnetic field cryogenic STM capable of manipulating and assembling individual atoms into interesting structures.

Current Projects

High-temperature superconductors: We synthesize polycrystalline, single crystal, and thin film and superlattice specimens of high-Tc oxide superconductors such as Y-Ba-Cu-O, Bi-Sr-Ca-Cu -O, and Hg-Ba-Ca-Cu-O, and perform isotope effect, intercalation, and magnetotransport studies. The goal is to understand the normal state transport and the mechanism of superconductivity. New superconductors have been synthesized and are being used to test theoretical models. Vortex (Abrikosov and Josephson) dynamics are studied in applied magnetic fields to 17.5 Tesla.

Fullerene-based conductors and superconductors: Fullerenes such as the soccer-ball-shaped molecule C60 are the basis for interesting conductors and superconductors. We intercalate C60 single crystals with alkali metals and study isotope effects (both alkali and cabon), general transport, magnetotransport, and high pressure effects. The C60 molecules can be polymerized into quasi-one-dimensional chains. These new air-stable conducting crystals display unusual phase transitions that we examine via conductivity, specific heat, x-ray scattering, and STM.

Nanotubes: It is possible to arrange carbon atoms into near-perfect nanotubes structures with diameters on the order of 10Å to 1000Å and lengths over 100µm. Theoretically, these tubes are the strongest possible fiber, and they are predicted to have unusual electronic properties (some are conductors, others insulators). We fabricate carbon nanotubes and measure their structure via TEM and electrical and mechanical properties using other techniques. It is possible to fill the tubes with other atoms, and to collapse the tubes into flat, flexible ribbons. In addition, it has been predicted that nanotubes containing boron and nitrogen, BxCyNz, may have many properties superior to carbon nanotubes for applications purposes. We synthesize such tubes and study their properties.

Giant magnetoresistance materials: Materials such as La-Ba-Mn-O are semiconductor-like at high temperature and metal-like (with magnetic ground states) at low temperature. In the intermediate temperature regime (typically somewhat below room temperature), they may display an unusually large negative magnetoresistance. We study the magnetoresistance and other transport properties in order to understand the conduction and scattering mechanisms.

Atomic-scale manipulation: We have designed and constructed a unique high-speed, high-field, cryogenic UHV scanning tunneling microscope capable of assembling and measuring the electronic properties of nanoscale structures, including superconductors and nanotubes.

In Research News

Solar Cell
November 7, 2016

Solar cells made from an inexpensive and increasingly popular material called perovskite can more efficiently turn sunlight into electricity using a new technique to sandwich two types of perovskite into a single photovoltaic cell.

 A canyon or pipistrelle bat
July 6, 2015

UC Berkeley physicists have used graphene to build lightweight ultrasonic loudspeakers and microphones, enabling people to mimic bats or dolphins’ ability to use sound to communicate and gauge the distance and speed of objects around them.

October 2, 2013

Berkeley Lab researchers apply transmission electron microscopy through unique graphene liquid cell

July 26, 2012

A technology that would enable low-cost, high efficiency solar cells to be made from virtually any semiconductor material has been developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley.

April 19, 2012

Berkeley Lab researchers have developed a technique for encapsulating liquids of nanocrystals between layers of graphene so that chemical reactions in the liquids can be imaged with an electron microscope.

March 26, 2012

The new Bakar Fellows Program is designed to help early-career Berkeley faculty commercialize promising research discoveries.

May 14, 2010

Launched as a pilot project at Berkeley Lab, the Cleantech to Market program is finishing its first semester as an official class at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and it's safe to say the students learned more than they expected on how to take a technology from the laboratory to the marketplace. What was less expected is how much the scientists got out of the program.

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