Entirely new state of matter discovered in graphene-like material

4 Apr 2016

A team of international researchers has announced what appears to be the discovery of evidence of a mysterious new state of matter that is being called a quantum spin liquid.

The discovery of this new state of matter has come 40 years after it was first theorised, but within the 2D material that strongly resembles the atom-thin wonder material graphene.

According to the University of Cambridge, the team found that the quantum spin liquid state would cause electrons within the 2D structure to break apart into pieces, referred to as Majorana fermions.

Future Human

By analysing these pieces, the team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US which was able to successfully match the Majorana fermions with the same model for a quantum spin liquid referred to in science as the Kitaev model.

Publishing its findings in Nature Materials, the research team said that the quantum spin liquids are one of nature’s most mysterious states of matter, which are thought to be hiding in certain magnetic materials, yet had never been observed in the natural world.

‘We didn’t even know what it would look like’

For example, the electrons in a typical magnetic material will order themselves to all point in the same direction, but when placed in absolute zero temperatures in a quantum spin liquid, the electrons would remain in an ‘entangled soup’.

Speaking of the team’s findings, paper co-author Dr Dmitry Kovrizhin said: “Until recently, we didn’t even know what the experimental fingerprints of a quantum spin liquid would look like.

“One thing we’ve done in previous work is to ask, ‘if I were performing experiments on a possible quantum spin liquid, what would I observe’?”

It’s now believed that the resulting Majorana fermion particles formed during the process will have far-reaching applications, particularly as potential building blocks for quantum computers.

Moving electrons illustration via Shutterstock

05/04/2016 Update

This article was amended to reflect Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s role as the leaders of this research.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic