Graphene is a carbon molecule with the structure of a honeycomb lattice. We show how this structure can arise in two dimensions as the minimizer of an interaction energy with two-body and three-body terms. In the engineering literature, the Brenner potential is commonly used to describe the interactions between carbon atoms. We consider a potential of Stillinger–Weber type that incorporates certain characteristics of the Brenner potential: the preferred bond angles are 180∘ and all interactions have finite range. We show that the thermodynamic limit of the ground state energy per particle is the same as that of a honeycomb lattice. We also prove that, subject to periodic boundary conditions, the minimizers are translated versions of the honeycomb lattice.
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