Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Neutrons reveal unexpected magnetism in rare-earth alloy


A new study by a multi-institutional team, led by researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University, has revealed exotic magnetic properties in a rare-earth based intermetallic compound. Similar studies suggest a better understanding of those types of behaviors could lead to applications in quantum computing and improved storage device technologies.

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and their collaborators used neutron scattering to uncover magnetic excitations in the metallic compound ytterbium-platinum-lead (Yb2Pt2Pb). Surprisingly, this three-dimensional material exhibits magnetic properties that one would conventionally expect if the connectivity between magnetic ions was only one-dimensional. Their research is discussed in a paper published in the journal Science.

This illustration shows the one-dimensional Yb ion chain in the quantum magnet Yb2Pt2Pb. The Yb orbitals are depicted as the iso-surfaces, and the green arrows indicate the antiferromagnetically aligned Yb magnetic moments. The particular overlap of the orbitals allows the Yb moments to hop between the nearest and next nearest neighbors along the chain direction, resulting in the two and four spinon excitations.

Credit: ORNL/Genevieve Martin

An electron can theoretically be understood as a bound state of three quasiparticles, which collectively carry its identity: spin, charge and orbit. It has been known that the spinon, the entity that carries information about electron spin, can "separate" itself from the others under certain conditions in one-dimensional chains of magnetic ions such as copper (Cu2+) in an insulating host. Now, the new study reveals that spinons are also present in metallic Yb2Pt2Pb.

The experimental team included ORNL postdoctoral researcher and lead author Liusuo Wu, Georg Ehlers, and Andrey Podlesnyak, instrument scientists at ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The team made use of the neutrons' sensitivity to magnetic fluctuations at the atomic scale and the world-leading capabilities of the SNS Cold Neutron Chopper Spectrometer (CNCS) instrument.

Placing a sample of Yb2Pt2Pb in the neutron beam and carefully mapping the dependence of the scattering intensity on angle and time-of-flight revealed characteristic signatures of the magnetic collective excitations in the material.

"An electron's ability to exhibit quantum magnetic behavior like this depends on how many pairings it can make with its nearest neighbors," Wu said. "In a one-dimensional chain, each has only two neighbors, making quantum fluctuations much more dramatic."

With contributions from collaborators at Brookhaven, Stony Brook University, and the University of Amsterdam, the research team developed a picture of spinons propagating in a particular direction, and how a magnetic excitation spectrum was calculated, based on that model, and compared it to the experimental data.

"The element ytterbium, found in the 4f group of the periodic table, often makes an interesting ingredient in a material. Here, the leading magnetic interactions conspire with the crystal structure and the local anisotropy to create an effect we call geometric frustration," Ehlers said. "In materials research, this gives us a handle on the properties of a particular system and allows one, ultimately, to design materials with specific desirable properties."

As in electrons, the magnetic moments in neutrons originate from their spin-1/2, the smallest possible magnetic moment in an ion or electron shell. Combined with their high penetrating power--due to the fact they carry no charge--neutrons are an ideal probe to explore magnetism in atomic systems. Here, the interesting phenomena occur at low energies and low temperatures, which is why the cold neutrons at CNCS are well suited to study them.

"At higher temperatures, the thermal effects will blur what we're able to see, because the ions start moving about more if the material is warmer, hindering our ability to see the excitations clearly," Ehlers said.

Another advantage to the CNCS instrument is that it can detect neutron scattering patterns in all three spatial dimensions simultaneously, which, according to Ehlers, proved to be crucial in the team's investigation.

"At first we were really puzzled by our results," Wu said. "But once we started to understand and look at it from the right perspective, we could see how the electrons hop between overlapping orbitals on nearest Yb neighbors.

"Now that we have a better understanding of how this happens, we can search for other materials that demonstrate similar properties, which will hopefully lead to even bigger discoveries and better technologies."


Co-authors of the paper, titled "Orbital-Exchange and Fractional Quantum Number Excitations in an f-electron Metal, Yb2Pt2Pb" include lead author Liusuo Wu, William Gannon, Michael Brockmann, Jean-Sebastien Caux, Moosung Kim, Yiming Qiu, John R. Copley, Georg Ehlers, Andrey Podlesnyak, Alexei Tsvelik, Igor Zaliznyak, and Meigan Aronson.

Additional contributions and complementary measurements were obtained from DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Stony Brook University, and the University of Amsterdam.

The research conducted at ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source was supported by DOE's Office of Science. The paper is available at

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE's Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

Media Contact

Jeremy Rumsey


Jeremy Rumsey | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light
05.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Physics, photosynthesis and solar cells
01.12.2016 | University of California - Riverside

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>