This magnetic-force microscope image shows the magnetic moments of artificial spin ice. The peaks and valleys show the orientations of the magnetic moments. Credit: William McConville and Ruifang Wang, Penn State
This magnetic-force microscope image shows the magnetic moments of artificial spin ice. The peaks and valleys show the orientations of the magnetic moments. Credit: Gilberto Morando and Cristiano Nisoli
A new method for exploring the secrets of Mother Nature’s frustrations has been developed by a team of physicists lead by Penn State University professors Peter Schiffer, Vincent Crespi, and Nitin Samarth. The research, which will be published this week in the journal Nature, is is an important contribution to the study of complex interacting systems, and it also could contribute to technologies for advanced magnetic-recording devices.
"We all would prefer to have less personal experience with frustration, but the state of frustration also is an important factor in the way many systems in nature work," explains Schiffer, who is a professor of physics at Penn State. "Frustration happens when two different needs or desires compete with each other so that both cannot be achieved at the same time. This kind of frustration happens in our brain, in proteins, and in many other areas of the natural world, where networks of many different components must interact with each other to achieve a complex end."
Schiffer explains, for example, that neural networks, which allow the brain to function, and protein molecules, which allow living matter to function, consist of thousands to millions of interacting components, and that a crucial element of these interactions is that they often are "frustrated." "When two different and competing signals are sent in the brain, the brain needs to choose which signal will dominate in order to take a particular action," Schiffer says. "Frustration happens even in a simple substance such as ice, which consists of only hydrogen and oxygen atoms, because there are competing forces on the hydrogen atoms pushing them between different positions relative to their neighboring oxygen atoms," he explains.
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