Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Magnetism's subatomic roots

06.09.2010
Rice study of high-tech materials helps explain everyday phenomenon

The modern world -- with its ubiquitous electronic devices and electrical power -- can trace its lineage directly to the discovery, less than two centuries ago, of the link between electricity and magnetism. But while engineers have harnessed electromagnetic forces on a global scale, physicists still struggle to describe the dance between electrons that creates magnetic fields.

Two theoretical physicists from Rice University are reporting initial success in that area in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their new conceptual model, which was created to learn more about the quantum quirks of high-temperature superconductors and other high-tech materials, has also proven useful in describing the origins of ferromagnetism -- the everyday "magnetism" of compass needles and refrigerator magnets.

"As a theorist, you strive to have exact solutions, and even though our new model is purely theoretical, it does produce results that match what's observed in the real world," said Rice physicist Qimiao Si, the lead author of the paper. "In that sense, it is reassuring to have designed a model system in which ferromagnetism is allowed."

Ferromagnets are what most people think of as magnets. They're the permanently magnetic materials that keep notes stuck to refrigerators the world over. Scientists have long understood the large-scale workings of ferromagnets, which can be described theoretically from a coarse-grained perspective. But at a deeper, fine-grained level -- down at the scale of atoms and electrons -- the origins of ferromagnetism remain fuzzy.

"When we started on this project, we were aware of the surprising lack of theoretical progress that had been made on metallic ferromagnetism," Si said. "Even a seemingly simple question, like why an everyday refrigerator magnet forms out of electrons that interact with each other, has no rigorous answer."

Si and graduate student Seiji Yamamoto's interest in the foundations of ferromagnetism stemmed from the study of materials that were far from ordinary.

Si's specialty is an area of condensed matter physics that grew out of the discovery more than 20 years ago of high-temperature superconductivity. In 2001, Si offered a new theory to explain the behavior of the class of materials that includes high-temperature superconductors. This class of materials -- known as "quantum correlated matter" -- also includes more than 10 known types of ferromagnetic composites.

Si's 2001 theory and his subsequent work have aimed to explain the experimentally observed behavior of quantum-correlated materials based upon the strangely correlated interplay between electrons that goes on inside them. In particular, he focuses on the correlated electron effect that occur as the materials approach a "quantum critical point," a tipping point that's the quantum equivalent of the abrupt solid-to-liquid change that occurs when ice melts.

The quantum critical point that plays a key role in high-temperature superconductivity is the tipping point that marks a shift to antiferromagnetism, a magnetic state that has markedly different subatomic characteristics from ferromagnetism. Because of the key role in high-temperature superconductivity, most studies in the field have focused on antiferromagnetism. In contrast, ferromagnetism -- the more familiar, everyday form of magnetism -- has received much less attention theoretically in quantum-correlated materials.

"So our initial theoretical question was, 'What would happen, in terms of correlated electron effects, when a ferromagnetic material moves through one of these quantum tipping points?" said Yamamoto, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla..

To carry out this thought experiment, Si and Yamamoto created a model system that idealizes what exists in nature. Their jumping off point was a well-studied phenomenon known as the Kondo effect -- which also has its roots in quantum magnetic effects. Based on what they knew of this effect, they created a model of a "Kondo lattice," a fine-grained mesh of electrons that behaved like those that had been observed in Kondo studies of real-world materials.

Si and Yamamoto were able to use the model to provide a rigorous answer about the fine-grained origins of metallic ferromagnetism. Furthermore, the ferromagnetic state that was predicted by the model turned out to have quantum properties that closely resemble those observed experimentally in heavy fermion ferromagnets.

"The model is useful because it allows us to predict how real-world materials might behave under a specific set of circumstances," Yamamoto said. "And, in fact, we have been able to use it to explain experimental observations on heavy fermion metals, including both the antiferromagnets as well as the less well understood ferromagnetic materials."

The read the paper's abstract, visit http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/08/20/1009498107.abstract

David Ruth | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rice.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Northern oceans pumped CO2 into the atmosphere

27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

Fingerprint' technique spots frog populations at risk from pollution

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Big data approach to predict protein structure

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>