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Electron-phonon instability in graphene revealed by global and local noise probes

Understanding and controlling nonequilibrium electronic phenomena is an outstanding challenge in science and engineering. By electrically driving ultraclean graphene devices out of equilibrium, we observe an instability that is manifested as substantially enhanced current fluctuations and suppressed conductivity at microwave frequencies. Spatial mapping of the nonequilibrium current fluctuations using nanoscale magnetic field sensors reveals that the fluctuations grow exponentially along the direction of carrier flow. Our observations, including the dependence on density and temperature, are consistently explained by the emergence of an electron-phonon Cerenkov instability at supersonic drift velocities. These results offer the opportunity for tunable terahertz generation and active phononic devices based on two-dimensional materials.

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