Relaxation time of electrons
Eesley, Gary L. General Motors Research and Development Center, Warren, Michigan.
- Transport property
- Constructive interference
- Local measurements
- Energy relaxation
- Semiconductor measurements
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
The characteristic time for a distribution of electrons in a solid to approach or “relax” to equilibrium after a disturbance is removed. A familiar example is the property of electrical conductivity, in which an applied electric field generates an electron current which relaxes to an equilibrium zero current after the field is turned off. The conductivity of a material is directly proportional to this relaxation time; highly conductive materials have relatively long relaxation times. The closely related concept of a lifetime is the mean time that an electron will reside in a given quantum state before changing state as a result of collision with another particle or intrinsic excitation. This lifetime is related to equilibrium properties of the material, whereas the relaxation time relates to the thermal and electrical transport properties. The average distance that an electron travels before a collision is called the mean free path. Although typical collision times in metals are quite short (on the order of 10−14 s at room temperature), mean free paths range from about 100 atomic distances at room temperature to 106 atomic distances in pure metals near absolute zero temperature. Considering the very dense packing of atoms in a solid, these surprisingly long electron path lengths are analogous to the unlikely event that a rifle bullet might travel for miles through a dense forest without hitting a tree. The detailed explanation of the electron mean free path in metals is a major success of the modern theory of solids.
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