New State of Magnetism Discovered

Guest_Jim_* - January 9, 2013 03:19PM in Science & Technology

Magnetism is a neat phenomenon that drives many of the devices we surround ourselves with, from speakers to electric motors to hard drives. These different devices utilize the two known states of magnetism, ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism, but in the future we may find devices using a newly discovered third state. Researchers at MIT and other institutions have discovered long predicted quantum spin liquid (QSL) state of magnetism which breaks certain rules we are used to.

Ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism both are based on the spins of electrons aligning either in parallel or antiparallel, but in a QSL the spins are never locked in one direction, though the material itself is solid. This allows the spins to fluctuate like molecules within a true liquid, which led to the researchers to observing something not believed possible by all physicists; fractionalized excitations. For most matter, quantum states change by whole numbers in our equations for them, but in the QSL the researchers found a continuum of fractional states.

Potentially this new state of magnetism could be used to enhance computer data drives and may influence our understanding of superconductors. Before that happens though researchers will have to understand exactly what is happening in QSLs as no one theory describes it completely.