Two papers from the past week, the first of which gives us a chance to discuss one of the on-going controversies in condensed matter physics.
cond-mat/0609301 - Lai et al., Linear temperature dependence of conductivity in Si two-dimensional electrons near the apparent metal-to-insulator transition
For years now, there has been a fairly heated debate about the nature of an apparent metal-insulator transition (as a function of carrier density) seen in various 2d electronic and hole systems. The basic observation, originally made in some Si MOSFETs of impressively high interface quality made in Russia, is that as the 2d carrier density is reduced, the temperature dependence of the sheet resistance changes qualitatively, from a metallic dependence (lower T = lower resistance) at high carrier concentration to an insulating dependence (lower T = higher resistance) at low concentration, with a separatrix in between with nearly T-independent resistance at some critical carrier density. A famous 1979 paper by the "Gang of Four" (Anderson, Abrahams, Licciardello, and Ramakrishnan) on the scaling theory of localization had previously argued that 2d systems of noninteracting carriers all become insulating at T=0 for arbitrarily weak disorder. So, the question is whether the real (interacting) case, with an apparent transition between metallic and insulating states, is profound (that is, a real quantum phase transition) or not (e.g., a percolative transition caused by the system breaking up into disconnected puddles of carriers as the concentration is lowered). There are some interesting pieces of evidence pointing in each direction. This paper weighs in using very nice Si quantum wells in SiGe, showing evidence consistent with a percolative crossover in the conductivity. Anyone out there care to comment on the state of this debate in general? Has there been a really slam dunk experiment out there that I've missed by avoiding this problem?
cond-mat/0609297 - Naik et al., Cooling a nanomechanical resonator with quantum back-action (also available in Nature)
This paper is one I need to read more carefully. These folks have constructed a nanomechanical resonator (operates at about 20 MHz), and are using a superconducting single-electron transistor (SSET) measured at high frequency to detect the resonator's motion. This is a great system for testing ideas about quantum measurement and back-action of the detector on the system being measured. In this case, they find that for the right settings of the SSET detector, they can actually cool the resonator (as determined by the noise temperature of the resonator, inferred from the readout of the detector) using the detector. The claim is that this is analogous to laser cooling in some sense, bit without a closer reading, I don't see how this really works. This shows that I need to think more and read more about this detector back-action business.