In recent years, tremendous interest has been generated in the fabrication and characterization of nanoscale structures such as quantum dots and wires. For example, there is interest in the electronic, magnetic, mechanical, and chemical properties of materials with reduced dimensions. In the case of nanoscale semiconductors, quantum effects are expected to play an increasingly prominent role in the physics of nanostructures, and a new class of electronic and optoelectronic devices may be possible. In addition to new and interesting physics, the formation and characterization of nanoscale magnetic structures could result in higher-density storage capacity in hard disks and optical-recording media. Likewise, phonon confinement leads to a drastic reduction of thermal conductivity and can be used to improve the performance of thermoelectric devices.
In 1980, H. Sakaki predicted theoretically that quantum wires may have applications in high-performance transport devices, due to their sawtoothlike density of states (E1/2), where E is the electron energy. Since then, most quantum wires have been made by fabricating a gratinglike gate on top of a two-dimensional (2D) electron gas contained in a semiconductor heterojunction or in metal-oxide-semiconductor structures. By applying a negative gate voltage to the system, its structure can be changed from a 2D to a one-dimensional (1D) regime, where electron confinement is achieved by an electrostatic confining potential. It was not until recently that “physical” semiconductor quantum wires with the demonstrated 1D confinement by physical boundaries began to be fabricated.