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Scientists Discover a ‘Tuneable’ Novel Quantum State of Matter

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: An international team of researchers led by Princeton physicist Zahid Hasan has discovered a quantum state of matter that can be “tuned” at will — and it’s 10 times more tuneable than existing theories can explain. This level of manipulability opens enormous possibilities for next-generation nanotechnologies and quantum computing. Hasan and his colleagues, whose research appears in the current issue of Nature, are calling their discovery a “novel” quantum state of matter because it is not explained by existing theories of material properties. The classical phases of matter — solids, liquids and gases — arise from interactions between atoms or molecules. In a quantum phase of matter, the interactions take place between electrons, and are much more complex.

[Hasan] and his colleagues arranged atoms on the surface of crystals in many different patterns and watched what happened. They used various materials prepared by collaborating groups in China, Taiwan and Princeton. One particular arrangement, a six-fold honeycomb shape called a “kagome lattice” for its resemblance to a Japanese basket-weaving pattern, led to something startling — but only when examined under a spectromicroscope in the presence of a strong magnetic field […]. All the known theories of physics predicted that the electrons would adhere to the six-fold underlying pattern, but instead, the electrons hovering above their atoms decided to march to their own drummer — in a straight line, with two-fold symmetry. The decoupling between the electrons and the arrangement of atoms was surprising enough, but then the researchers applied a magnetic field and discovered that they could turn that one line in any direction they chose. Without moving the crystal lattice, [one] could rotate the line of electrons just by controlling the magnetic field around them.


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