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Landauer Buttiker Formalism

Frank Elsholz

December 17, 2002


This is intended to be a very elementary introduction to the Landauer

Buttiker Formalism. At first, basic concepts of electronic transport in meso-
scopic structures are introduced, like transverse modes, reflectionless contacts
and the ballistic conductor. The current per mode per energy is calculated
and the value for the contact resistance derived. Then Landauers formula is
proposed, including residual scatterers resistances. After investigating the
question, where the voltage drop comes from, multiterminal devices are con-
sidered, proposing B uttikers multi-terminal formula, wich is then applied to
a simple three terminal device. The whole article is heavily based on [1].
1 Symbols 3

2 Ohmic Resistance Measurement 3

3 Concepts 4
3.1 Transmission probability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3.2 Ballistic conductor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3.3 Reflectionless contacts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3.4 Transverse modes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3.5 Distribution Function . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3.6 Number of transverse modes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
3.7 Contact Resistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

4 Landauer Formula 8

5 Residual scatterers resistance on a microscopic scale 9

6 Multiterminal Devices 10

7 Three Terminal Device 12

1 Symbols
Quantity Groe Symbol SI-Unit
(2-D)Conductivity1 (spezifische) Leitf
ahigkeit 1 m1
(2-D)Resistivity1 (spezifischer) Widerstand m1
Conductance1 Leitwert G 1
Resistance1 Widerstand R
Band edge energy (bulk) (Leitungs-)bandunterkante EC eV
Cutoff energy ? c eV
Transmission function Transmissionsfunktion T
Heavyside function Stufenfunktion
Effective mass Effektive Masse m me
Length L
ange L m
Width Breite w m
Number of transverse modes Anzahl transversaler Moden M

2 Ohmic Resistance Measurement

To start with, we consider a simple classical ohmic re- UR
sistance measurement (fig. 1). The total resistance com- RUR
prises of of several parts: The actual resistor, the wires, wR0
the instruments, the internal resistance of the battery. . . L

Rtot = RU + RI + R0 + RL (1) R RI
+ U-
But we wont worry bout all these details, so usually we R
calculate the resistors resistance by calculating UDC UDC

UR Figure 1:
R0 = . (2)
I Measuring
On the other hand, we know, that the resistance can be the value of a
expressed by a specific, material dependend but geometry resistance R0 is
independent (2-D)resistivity , or, equivalently, its (2- influenced by
D)conductivity , as: several sources
of pratical
L errors.
R0 = G1
0 = , (3)
Temparture dependent

Contact 1 Conductor
Contact 2

Figure 2: A conductor sandwiched between two contacts.

with , w dimensions of the resistor. So what happens, if we tend this geom-

etry towards zero? We would expect the resistance to become zero too:
lim R0 = 0 (wrong)

which is not observed experimentally. For the length L going to zero und
for small width w, we find a limiting value limL0 R0 RC (w), which does
depend on the width. To find an explanation, we introduce several concepts.
3 Concepts
We treat the resistor as a conductor sandwiched between two contacts (fig.

3.1 Transmission probability

Conductance should be related to the ease, with wich electrons can pass a
conductor, so we introduce the transmission probability T as the probability
for an electron to transmit through the conductor. Certainly, the reflection
probability will be given by 1 T .

3.2 Ballistic conductor

A ballistic conductor is an ideal transmitting conductor without scatterers,
having a transmission probability of T = 1.

3.3 Reflectionless contacts

An electron inside the conductor can exit into a wide contact with negligible
probability of reflection. This is a quite good approximation, for the given
case of a narrow conductor and almost infinitely wide contact, as we will see

later. This assumption set us in the position to note, that the +k states
inside a ballistic conductor are populated by electron originating in the left
contact only and vice versa.

3.4 Transverse modes

As we will see, electronic transport happens in discrete channels through a
narrow conductor, which we call transverse modes. The electron dynam-
ics in effective mass approximation inside the conductor is described by
Schrodingers eigenvalue equation
EC + + V (x, y) (x, y, z) = E(x, y, z) (4)

Here, EC is the conduction band edge of

the (bulk) conductor material and V (x, y) is a
confining potential (fig. 3). Since the system
is translational invariant in the z direction, we
choose a separating ansatz which yields:
(x,h y, z) = (x, y)exp(ik
i z z)
p2x +p2y
2m + V (x, y) n (x, y) = n n (x, y)
2 2
En (kz ) = EC + n + h2mkz
The n (x, y) are called transverse modes and x,y
n is an index for the discrete spectrum. With w
this we can understand, why we can assume
the contact to be reflectionless: An electron Figure 3: Lateral potential
inside the conductor most probably will find confining the width of a con-
an empty state in the contact when exiting, ductor.
for we have almost infinitely many modes in a
wide contact. For an electron in the contact, however, we have a different
situation: To enter the conductor it must have exactly the correct energy
corresponding to an empty transverse mode. Fig. 4 illustrates this matter.
From now on we simply say k := kz .

3.5 Distribution Function

We will assume the contacts to be in thermodynamical equilibrium, so the
electrons simply are Fermi-distributed with some electrochemical potentials


Conductor Contact kz

(a) (b)

Figure 4: (4(a)): States in a conductor and contact. (4(b)): Schematic

dispersionrelations for some transverse modes.

1 and 2 :
T =0K
Left contact: f1 (E) = (1 E) Fermi distribution
T =0K
Right contact: f2 (E) = (2 E) Fermi distribution
T =0K
+k states: f + (E) = f1 (E) = (1 E)
Conductor: T =0K
-k states: f (E) = f2 (E) = (2 E)

3.6 Number of transverse modes

f -(E) The effectively current carrying states are
the states between 1 and 2 (fig. 5), so we
only have to count the number of them and
to calculate, which current is carried by each
state. With cut-off energy n = En (k = 0) for
0 m2 m1 E each transverse mode n, the number of states
that can bePreached at an energy E is given by
Figure 5: Current carrying M (E) := (E n ). Now we consider the
states are between 1 and n

2 . +k states at first. Each mode n is occupied

according to the left contact distriution func-
tion f1 (E) = f (E) and carries a current In+ = N eveff , where N = L1 is the

electron density for an electron inside a conductor of length L and veff is the
effective velocity of the electrons. So we have:

e X E +
In+ = f (E(k)). (5)
L k h
By using the formal transition 2 2
dk this yields:

In+ = f + (E)dE. (6)

All modes together sum up to:

+ 2e
I = f + (E)M (E)dE. (7)

Here 2e
= 80 meV is the current per mode per energy. The same holds for
the k states.
3.7 Contact Resistance
Apply a low voltage U = (1 2 ) /e to a ballistic conductor, such that
M (E)=const=M for 2 < E < 1 , which is referred to as transport at the
Fermi edge. Then the current will be

2e 2e2 (1 2 )
I = I+ I = M (1 2 ) = M
h h e
The conductance will be
I 2e2
GC = = M
U h
and the resistance (contact resistance)is

C = 12.9 k
2e2 M
These results have been confirmed experimentally (fig. 6).

Figure 6: Discrete conductance steps in a narrow conductor (atopted from:

4 Landauer Formula
A fully analoguous treatment including a resident scatterer inside the
conductor with transmission probability T yield Landauers formula for the
conductance of a mesoscopic conductor:

Gtot = h
MT Landauer 1957 (8)

This formula includes:

Contact resistance

Discrete modes

Ohms law
Ohms law is obtained considerering the limiting case of a long conductor
including many scatterers, which will not be derived here. The interested
reader may be suggested to have a look in [1]. Finally we want to devide the
resistance into two parts: The resistance originating in the transistion to the
contacts and the residual scatterers resistance:
h h h 1T
G1 = = + (9)
2e2 M T 2 2
|2e{zM} |2e M{z T }
C G1

5 Residual scatterers resistance on a micro-
scopic scale

m1 S m2

Distributionfunctions (T=0 K):
+ + + +
f (E)=J(m1-E) f (E)=J(m1-E) f (E)=J(m2-E)+T[J(m1-E)-J(m2-E)] f (E)=J(F''-E)
1 1 1 1

0 0 0 0
0 m2 m1 E 0 m2 m1 E 0 m2 F'' m1 E 0 F'' E
f (E)=J(F'-E) -
f (E)=J(m2-E)
f (E)=J(m2-E)
1 f (E)=J(m2-E)+(1-T)[J(m1-E)-J(m2-E)] 1 1

1-T 1-T 1-T


0 0 0 0
0 F' E 0 m2 F' m1 E 0 m2 F' m1 E 0 m2 F' m1 E

To have a look at the distribution function for the electrons inside the con-
ductor for temperature 0K, we first consider the +k states. Coming in from
the left contact (XL), they are Fermi distributed according to the left contact
electrochemical potential 1 and move on to the scatterer (L). Here a frac-
tion T transmits the scatterer, the remaining part is reflected back to the left
contact, so these electrons turn into k states. Directly after the scatterer
(R) the +k states are highly nonequilibrium distributed. On their way to
the right contact, however they relaxate and form a new equilibrium Fermi
distribution with some quasi-potential F. The same holds for the k states
originating in the right contact: First they are Fermi distributed according
to the right contact electrochemical potential 2 , move on to the scatterer.
Here, in pricipal a fraction T is transmitted and the rest reflected, however
to simplify the matter, we assume the scatterer to act only on the +k states,
so all k states can transmit, which definitely is not quite correct. After
passing the scatterer, the transmitted k states unify with the reflected +k
states, that turned into k states and we again have a highly nonequilibrium

distribution, which relexates on its way to the left contact. A quasi Fermi-
potential F emerges.
In that simplified model the quasi-Fermi Niveaus are given by:
F 0 = 2 + (1 T )(1 2 ) (10)
F 00 = 2 + T (1 2 ) (11)
Fig. 8 shows the electrochemical potentials for the two species across the



equilibrium nonequilibrium equilibrium
distributions distributions distributions

Figure 8: Electrochemical potentials for the +k states (red) and the k

states (blue).

conductor. Clearly we can see, that the voltage drop at the scatterer is:
+k states eVs+ = 1 F 00 = (1 T ) = eG1
s I
0 1
-k states eVs = F 2 = (1 T ) = eGs I
whereas the voltage drop at the contacts is:

eVc = T (1 2 ) = eG1
c I

according to eqn. 9.

6 Multiterminal Devices
Now we want to extend our investigations to multi-terminal devices, having
more than 2 probes (or electrodes or contacts, generally terminals). Fig. 9

mp1 mp2

1 T
m1 S m2

Figure 9: Conceptual idea of a multiterminal device with 4 terminals (con-


schematically shows a 4 terminal device with a scatterer inside the conduc-

tor. When treating such devices, we have to note, that there exist different
problems, that may arise, some of which are sketched in fig. 10 So how do we

m mp1 mp2 mp1 mp2

m p1 p2

m1 +k -k S +k -k m2 m1 S m2 m1 S m2

(a) (b) (c)

Figure 10: Different problems with multiterminal devices arise: (10(a)):

The terminals may couple differently to different species of states (e.g.
+ kstates). (10(b)): Since the terminal are invasive by themselves, they
may produce additional sources of scattering. (10(c)): A propagating wave
may interfer with its own from a scatterer reflected part. This is a pure
quantum-mechanical effect and the results of a measurement may depend on
the exact location of the terminals.

have to treat such multi-terminal devices? It was B uttiker, who realized, that
there is no principal difference between voltage probes and current probes, so
we can simply extend the two terminal Landauer formula by summing over
all probes:
2e X 
Buttiker: Ip = T qp p T pq q (12)
h q

Here T qp := Mqp Tqp is the product of transmission probability T from
contact p to contact q and the number of transverse modes M between them,
and is called transmission function. Just let us rewrite this a little:
2e2 P P
Gqp = Gpq
with Gpq := T pq
h q q
q P
Vq := Ip = Gpq (Vp Vq )
e q

7 Three Terminal Device

I1 I2 I3
V1 V3


Figure 11: Conceptual idea of a 3 terminal-device.

For a voltage contact p, we know that there is almost no current flowing,

so we can write:
G p q Vq
Ip = 0 V p = P (13)
G pq

As an example we will apply this result to a three terminal device as shown

in fig. 11. Here the probe at potential V2 may be the voltage probe and we
just want to measure the resistance of that device. From eqn. 12 we can


I1 G11 (V1 V1 ) + G12 (V1 V2 ) + G13 (V1 V3 )
I2 = G21 (V2 V1 ) + G22 (V2 V2 ) + G23 (V2 V3 )
I3 G31 (V3 V1 ) + G32 (V3 V2 ) + G33 (V3 V3 )

G12 + G13 G12 G13 V1
= G21 G21 + G23 G23 V2
G31 G32 G31 + G32 V3

This can be reduced further. From Kirchhoffs knot rule, we know, that
I1 + I2 + I3 = 0, so these three equations are not independent and we can
only solve for I1 and I2 . I3 then follows immediately. Secondly we can choose
a reference potential without changing the physics behind it, so we choose
V3 = 0 to simplify the matter. This yields:
I1 G12 + G13 G12 V1
I2 G21 G21 + G23 V2
| {z }
V1 Raa Rab I1
V2 Rba Rbb I2

and the resistance is given as

V2 Rba I1 + Rbb I2
R= = = Rba
I1 I2 =0 I1
I2 =0

R can be obtained from the conductance coefficients Gij and these can be
obtained from the scattering matrix Slm , for which we have to solve the
threedimensional problem quantummechanically, e.g. using Greens function.

[1] S. Datta, Electronic Transport in Mesoscopic Systems (Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, Cambridge, 1995).