"Quantum vibe" can reveal the secrets of matter


2018-10-06 14:15:16




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Over the last few years some materials were ground for physicists. These materials are not to be made of something special — ordinary particles, protons, neutrons and electrons. But they are more than just the sum of their parts. These materials have a range of interesting properties and phenomena, and sometimes even led physicists to new States of matter — after solids, gaseous and liquid, which we know from childhood.

One of the types of material that particularly excites physicists, is a topological insulator — and, more generally, of the topological phase, the theoretical foundations that have led their inventors to the Nobel prize in 2016. On the surface of a topological insulator the electrons flowing smoothly, but inside are still. The surface of the metal conductor, and the inside — like a ceramic insulator. Topological insulators have attracted attention for their unusual physics and potential application in quantum computers and so-called spintronic devices that utilize the spin of electrons and their charge.

This exotic behavior is not always obvious. "You can't just say, considering the material in the traditional sense, he has such kind of properties or not," says Frank, Wilczek, a physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of technology, Nobel laureate 2004 in physics.


What is quantum atmosphere?

Turns out, many seemingly ordinary materials can contain hidden, but unusual and possibly useful properties. In a recently published work, Wilczek and kin-Dong Zhang, a physicist from Stockholm University, have proposed a new method to explore such properties by studying the subtle aura that surrounds the material. They called it the quantum atmosphere.

In this atmosphere might exhibit some fundamental quantum properties of the material of which the physics could then be measured. If it is confirmed by experiments, this phenomenon will not only be one of the few macroscopic manifestations of quantum mechanics, says Wilczek, but will become a powerful tool for the study of new materials.

"If you asked me whether something like this to happen, I would say that this idea makes sense," said Taylor Hughes, a condensed matter theorist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And he adds: "Assume that the effect will be very weak." In his new analysis, however, Zhang and Wilczek calculated that, in principle, quantum atmospheric effect will be detectable.

Moreover, said Wilczek, to detect such effects, it may be possible very soon.


Area of influence

Quantum vibe, explains Wilczek, is a thin zone of influence around the material. Of quantum mechanics implies that the vacuum is not absolutely empty; it is filled with quantum fluctuations. For example, if you take two charged plates and place them side by side in a vacuum, only quantum fluctuations with wavelengths shorter than the distance between the plates will be able to squeeze between them. But outside the plates be exposed to the fluctuations of all wavelengths. The energy outside is more than inside, which will cause the total force to squeeze the plates together. This is the Casimir effect, and it is similar to the quantum effects of the atmosphere, says Wilczek.

Just as the album feels a stronger force approaching the other, the needle probe will feel the impact of the quantum of the atmosphere, approaching the material. "It's like the usual atmosphere", says Wilczek. "The closer you are to it, the greater its impact." The nature of this impact depends on the quantum properties of the material.

Antimony can act as a topological insulator — a material that functions as an insulator anywhere except the surface.

These properties can be very different. Some materials act as separate universes with their own physical laws, like there are in the multiverse materials. "A very important idea in modern condensed matter physics is such that we have the materials — for example, topological insulators, inside of which operates a different set of rules," said Peter Armitage, condensed matter physicist from Johns Hopkins University.

Some materials act as magnetic monopoles — magnets point to the North pole, but no South. Physicists have also discovered the so-called quasi-particles with fractional electric charge and quasi-particles, which act as their own antimatter and is able to annihilate.

If such exotic properties exist in other materials, they could reveal themselves in the quantum atmospheres. It would be possible to reveal a whole new set of properties simply probing of the atmosphere material, said Wilczek.

To demonstrate his idea, Zhang and Wilczek focused on an unusual set of rules — axion electrodynamics — which can lead to the emergence of unique properties. Vilcek came to this theory in 1987 to demonstrate how a hypothetical particle called the axion would interact with electricity and magnetism. (Prior to this, physicists have proposed the axion to solve one of the greatest mysteries of physics: why is the interaction with the strong force remain the same, if the particles are replaced by antiparticles, and reflect in the mirror, keeping the symmetry of charge and parity (CP-symmetry). To this day no one has found any evidence of the existence of axions,although not so long ago, to them appeared an increased interest as candidates for dark matter.

Although these rules will not work in most places in the Universe, they are quite a manifest inside the material, such as a topological insulator. "How electromagnetic fields interact in these new materials, topological insulators, it is essentially the same as if they were interacting with a collection of axions," says Wilczek.


Defects in diamonds

If such material as topological insulator obey the laws of axion electrodynamics, quantum the atmosphere can react to anything that crosses it. Zhang and Wilczek calculated that this effect will be similar to the manifestation of the magnetic field. In particular, they found that if you place a certain system of atoms or molecules in the atmosphere, their quantum energy levels change. Scientists can measure the change to these levels using standard laboratory methods. "This is an unusual but interesting idea," says Armitage.

One such potential system — diamond probe with the so-called nitrogen-substituted vacancies (NV centers). NV-center is a kind of defect in the crystal structure of diamond when the carbon atom in diamond is replaced by a nitrogen atom, and the place is close to the nitrogen, remains empty. The quantum state of such a system is highly sensitive, allowing NV centers to feel even the weak magnetic field. This property makes them powerful sensors that can be used for many different purposes in Geology and biology.

"This is a great proof of principle," says Hughes. One application could be the mapping properties of the material. Swiping to the NV centre through the material like a topological insulator, it would be possible to determine how changing its properties over the entire surface.

Zhang and Wilczek that they have submitted to Physical Review Letters, describes only the quantum of atmospheric influence derived from the axion electrodynamics. To determine what other properties affect the atmosphere, says Wilczek, you need to do other calculations.


Breaking of symmetry

In fact, the properties that reveal the quantum of the atmosphere, represented by the symmetries. The different phases of matter, and properties that correspond to them, can be represented in the form of symmetries. In a solid crystal, e.g., atoms arranged in a symmetrical lattice, which shifts or rotates with the formation of identical crystalline schemes. When it is heated, when dissolved, the lattice structure collapses, the material loses its symmetry and becomes liquid in some sense.

The Materials may violate other fundamental symmetries such as the symmetry of inverse time, which observes most of the laws of physics. Other phenomena may, if reflected in the mirror and break the symmetry of parity.

If these symmetries may be broken in the material, we could observe a previously unknown phase transitions and potentially exotic properties. Material with certain violations of the symmetries will cause the same violations in the probe, which passes through the quantum atmosphere, says Wilczek. For example, in the matter, which should axion thermodynamics broken symmetry and time and parity, but combined them. Touching the feel of the material, you can find out whether it violates the symmetry, and to what extent.

"Some materials are the secret to break the symmetry, which we don't even know and who do not expect to see," he says. "They will seem innocent but hide their secrets."

Wilczek said that he had discussed the idea with the experimenters. Moreover, these experiments quite feasible, and even not years, but weeks and months.

If everything works, the term "quantum vibe" will find a permanent place in the lexicon of physicists. Previously, Wilczek have invented terms such as axions, anyons (quasiparticles, which can be useful for quantum computing) and the crystals of time. Quantum of the atmosphere can also be delayed.

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