This story originally appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Marietta, The Magazine of Marietta College.
A quick glance at your cell phone, tablet or laptop, and you can gain an appreciation for surface physics. “When you look at technology today, the smaller and more condensed, the more appealing it is to consumers,” says Dr. Dennis Kuhl, who is a Rickey Associate Professor of Physics. “So the smaller the device, the more important the surface becomes.”
Deep inside a metal, an atom’s surroundings are symmetric in all directions. At the surface, however, the symmetry is broken in one direction. That broken symmetry leads to important physical effects.