Glass Might Have A New Phase Of Matter Thanks To Infinite Dimensions Calculation

This potential new phase of glass was shown with 30 handwritten pages of calculation. Irem Altan

Glass is a really weird solid. So weird that some people thought it might be a very viscous liquid. Its molecular structure is messy and chaotic, and the lack of regularity has made it difficult for scientists to work out its physical property. However, a new analysis has provided an answer to a 30-year debate.

Researchers from Duke University have put forward the possibility that a new phase of matter exists for glass and other amorphous solids at extremely low temperatures. They demonstrated this theoretically with 30 pages of algebraic calculations borrowed from particle physics.

Their results, published in Physical Review Letters, have used a clever trick. They analyzed glass as if it belonged to a universe with infinite dimensions because surprisingly the math was easier. The difficult bit was then tried to scale it down to our universe.

"The question is whether this model has any relevance to the real world," co-author Professor Patrick Charbonneau said in a statement. "The gamble was that, as you change dimension, things change slowly enough that you can see how they morph as you go from an infinite number of dimensions to three."

The key to this work has been proving the existence of a specific and special phase transition, called the Gardner Transition. It clearly existed in the infinite dimension model, but its existence in three-dimensions was considered unlikely based on calculations from the 1980s.

Recent experiments and simulations performed by Charbonneau and others suggested that the transition point existed. Maybe the original calculations didn’t go far enough. Charbonneau’s student Sho Yaida took on the challenge and spent a month working on the math, finally producing a 30-page proof for the existence of this “fixed point” that allows the Gardner Transition.
 
"It is just a point, but it means a lot to people in this field," Yaida said. "It shows that this exotic thing that people found in the seventies and eighties does have a physical relevance to this three-dimensional world."
 
Armed with the theoretical proof, scientists will now investigate these materials experimentally.  
 
"The fact that this transition might actually exist in three dimensions means that we can start looking for it seriously," Charbonneau added. "It affects how sound propagates, how much heat can be absorbed, the transport of information through it. And if you start shearing the glass, how it will yield, how it will break."
 
This discovery expands what we know of amorphous materials, whether they are glass, plastic, or even frozen food.
 
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