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Why it’s exciting that scientists discovered a new state of matter

Published Apr 5th, 2016 6:30PM EDT
Electrons New State Matter
Image: Genevieve Martin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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It might sound boring to most people, but the fact that scientists have finally been able to prove there’s a new state of matter is very exciting, as it could have applications for the future of computing.

In short, scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennesse were able to prove that a state of matter theorized some 40 years ago does exist. The new state of matter is known as “quantum spin liquid” and is made of electrons that break into smaller quasiparticles, as Science Alert explains.

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The electron is the fundamental element of matter, which can’t be divided into smaller blocks. However, this new experiment proves that electrons can fractionalize though they’re not really breaking into additional components.

“This is a new quantum state of matter, which has been predicted but hasn’t been seen before,” Cambridge researcher Johannes Knolle said.

The researchers were able to prove that quantum spin liquid exists and they observed the Majorana fermions that result from electron fractionalization. These fermions are exciting because they could be used to build quantum computers in the future, the kind of machines that will significantly outperform existing computers.

The quantum spin liquid state makes electrons act weirdly, but until these experiments, researchers did not know how this theoretical matter state would look or behave.

In a typical magnetic material, all electrons behave similarly. Cooled to low enough temperature, the electrons order themselves so that all the north magnetic poles point in the same direction. But with a material containing a quantum spin liquid, the electrons don’t align anymore under the same conditions.

Scientists were able to prove that electron fractionalization and Majorana fermions exist by using neuron scattering techniques and observing the effects in alpha-ruthenium chloride, a material similar to graphene – the full study explaining this new state of matter is available in Nature Materials.

Meanwhile, the following video explains how electrons can “break” into smaller particles, and how the technology could be used to build quantum computers.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.