New Type Of Bizarre Quantum Material Discovered

It doesn't yet exist, but it has been indirectly discovered through theoretical physics experiments and modelling. Dmitriy Rybin/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 23 Dec 2017, 03:45

Reports are flying around the Web that speak of the creation of a fabled quantum material that may have some relatively magical properties. Whenever anyone suggests that a new quantum material has been discovered, skepticism should be front and center.

Indeed, in this case, the material hasn’t actually been manufactured, despite the fact that a new theoretical physics model has pointed toward it existing. So what exactly is it?

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team – led by Rice University – explain that it’s a “Weyl-Kondo semimetal” that shares its properties with a wide range of other materials that exhibit curious quantum behavior. This includes a strange class of materials known as “topological insulators”, a topic that featured in 2016’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

Quantum materials exhibit unusual properties and electromagnetic behavior that cannot be exclusively explained using classical physics, which attempts to explain gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear forces without invoking quantum mechanics.

Take superconductors, for example. These materials, when cooled to temperatures near to absolute zero, experience a dramatic drop in electrical resistance. This means that a current can propagate around the superconducting material without the material heating up (potentially dangerously), which is clearly an extremely useful property to have in some instances.

This phenomenon is quantum mechanical in nature, which means that it’s already strange. However, things get weirder.

In the 1980s, certain superconducting materials were discovered to still be able to carry currents at zero resistance at bizarrely high temperatures. This makes them far more efficient than regular old superconducting materials.

These high-temperature superconductors are also quantum materials that can’t be explained using classical physics, and right now, according to a recent editorial in Nature, “the mechanism of superconductivity continues to be elusive.”

There’s much we don’t know, even when we come across a brand new quantum material.

That’s the case with this new Weyl-Kondo semimetal. While experimenting with a range of models that were designed to help explain things like high-temperature superconductivity, they serendipitously happened across what seemed like evidence for a Weyl fermion.

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