Strain solitons and topological defects in bilayer graphene
Bilayer graphene has been a subject of intense study in recent years. The interlayer registry between the layers can have dramatic effects on the electronic properties: for example, in the presence of a perpendicular electric field, a band gap appears in the electronic spectrum of so-called Bernal-stacked graphene [Oostinga JB, et al. (2007) Nature Materials 7:151-157]. This band gap is intimately tied to a structural spontaneous symmetry breaking in bilayer graphene, where one of the graphene layers shifts by an atomic spacing with respect to the other. This shift can happen in multiple directions, resulting in multiple stacking domains with soliton-like structural boundaries between them. Theorists have recently proposed that novel electronic states exist at these boundaries [Vaezi A, et al. (2013) arXiv:1301.1690; Zhang F, et al. (2013) arXiv:1301.4205], but very little is known about their structural properties. Here we use electron microscopy to measure with nanoscale and atomic resolution the widths, motion, and topological structure of soliton boundaries and related topological defects in bilayer graphene. We find that each soliton consists of an atomic-scale registry shift between the two graphene layers occurring over 6-11 nm. We infer the minimal energy barrier to interlayer translation and observe soliton motion during in situ heating above 1,000°C. The abundance of these structures across a variety of samples, as well as their unusual properties, suggests that they will have substantial effects on the electronic and mechanical properties of bilayer graphene.