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Enhanced noise at high bias in atomic-scale Au break junctions.

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Heating in nanoscale systems driven out of equilibrium is of fundamental importance, has ramifications for technological applications, and is a challenge to characterize experimentally. Prior experiments using nanoscale junctions have largely focused on heating of ionic degrees of freedom, while heating of the electrons has been mostly neglected. We report measurements in atomic-scale Au break junctions, in which the bias-driven component of the current noise is used as a probe of the electronic distribution. At low biases (<150 mV) the noise is consistent with expectations of shot noise at a fixed electronic temperature. At higher biases, a nonlinear dependence of the noise power is observed. We consider candidate mechanisms for this increase, including flicker noise (due to ionic motion), heating of the bulk electrodes, nonequilibrium electron-phonon effects, and local heating of the electronic distribution impinging on the ballistic junction. We find that flicker noise and bulk heating are quantitatively unlikely to explain the observations. We discuss the implications of these observations for other nanoscale systems, and experimental tests to distinguish vibrational and electron interaction mechanisms for the enhanced noise.

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