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 3-D-printed structures shrink when heated
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

nachricht From ancient fossils to future cars
21.10.2016 | 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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>