If the conditions are just right, some of the electrons inside a material will arrange themselves into a tidy honeycomb pattern — like a solid within a solid. Physicists have now directly imaged these ‘Wigner crystals’, named after the Hungarian-born theorist Eugene Wigner, who first imagined them almost 90 years ago.
Researchers had convincingly created Wigner crystals and measured their properties before, but this is the first time that anyone has actually taken a snapshot of the patterns, says study co-author Feng Wang, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you say you have an electron crystal, show me the crystal,” he says. The results were published on 29 September in Nature1.