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Intriguing Quantum Phase Transition Discovered

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 05:57PM

Since the first observation of a quantum mechanical phenomenon, researchers have been trying to determine where the division between quantum and classical mechanics is. Superconductivity, entanglement, superposition, and tunneling are all quantum phenomenon that are could revolutionize many technologies if they could exist at room conditions. Now researchers at Duke University have found a new transition point when studying resonant tunneling that they had not expected.

Tunneling is a means for a particle, like an electron, to skip past a barrier that it cannot overcome. This would be akin to walking through a tunnel in a mountain, instead of climbing over the mountain, with one difference being that the particle never actually exists within the barrier. Resonant tunneling is slightly different as it gives a place for a particle to exist within the barrier, to make the process easier, like a rest stop or gas station. In this case it was a carbon nanotube that served as the stop and the researchers found its position was more important than they thought. Only when the nanotube was exactly in the middle of the barrier did the electrons in the experiment tunnel through the barrier. When the nanotube had a bias to either side, the electrons would not tunnel.

Typically quantum phase transitions require very low temperatures, which can be difficult to obtain. By having the mechanical trigger of just moving the nanotube, this research could lead to new studies concerning where quantum phase transitions are able to occur.

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