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MIT researchers discover existence of new state of magnetism

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MIT physicists grew this pure crystal of herbertsmithite in their laboratory. This sample, which took 10 months to grow, is 7 mm long (just over a quarter-inch) and weighs 0.2 grams.

Experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say that they have been able to demonstrate the existence of a new state of magnetism.

MIT physics professor Young Lee, the senior author of the study, said in report an edition the scientific journal Nature published earlier in the week and quoted by news agencies on Friday that his team’s experimental work demonstrates that “there is a third fundamental state for magnetism,” where experts had previously only confirmed the existence of two states of magnetism.

The MIT researchers have dubbed the new state a quantum spin liquid (QSL), which forms part of the science of ferromagnetics, such as a compass needle, and anti-ferromagnetics, such as that found in computer hard drives.

“This QSL material exhibits fractional quantum states. In fact, the researchers found that these excited states, called spinons, form a continuum,” MIT said in statement.

The team has shown that a laboratory grown crystal, which comes from a mineral called herbertsmithite, behaves as a QSL.

The synthetic crystal exists as a solid and at the same time has liquid properties in a magnetic state, the MIT statement explained. The material has frequent changes in the direction of the magnetic forces of its individual particles.

Lee said the orders of the magnetic orientations are non-static, or in other words, they continually move, adding that there is “a strong interaction” between the spinning magnetic particles.

Lee and his colleagues experimented on the crystal with a technique known as neutron scattering, where a reactor fires neutrons into a crystal and a detector records their directions as they exit.

Using a neutron spectrometer, the team detected strong evidence of the spin state fractionalization, which Lee said is “a fundamental theoretical prediction for spin liquids that we are seeing in a clear and detailed way for the first time.”

The set of findings, after proving it works in practical applications, could lead to improved communication and data storage technology through taking advantage of quantum entanglement, where within an instance of time, particles can interact with each other regardless of their separation distance.

However, Lee says that it could take a long time until the theory is set in stone through practically applying the team’s findings.

“We have to get a more comprehensive understanding of the big picture,” the MIT researcher said. “There is no theory that describes everything that we’re seeing.”


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