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There's no known way to prove a three-dimensional "quantum spin liquid" exists, so Rice University physicists and their collaborators did the next best thing: They showed their single crystals of cerium zirconium pyrochlore had the right stuff to qualify as the first possible 3-D version of the long-sought state of matter.
Despite the name, a quantum spin liquid is a solid material in which the weird property of quantum mechanics—entanglement—ensures a liquidlike magnetic state.
Paper - Week - Nature - Physics - Researchers
In a paper this week in Nature Physics, researchers offered a host of experimental evidence—including crucial neutron-scattering experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and muon spin relaxation experiments at Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI)—to support their case that cerium zirconium pyrochlore, in its single-crystal form, is the first material that qualifies as a 3-D quantum spin liquid.
"A quantum spin liquid is something that scientists define based on what you don't see," said Rice's Pengcheng Dai, corresponding author of the study and a member of Rice's Center for Quantum Materials (RCQM). "You don't see long-range order in the arrangement of spins. You don't see disorder. And various other things. It's not this. It's not that. There's no conclusive positive identification."
Research - Team - Samples - Kind - Pyrochlores
The research team's samples are believed to be the first of their kind: Pyrochlores because of their 2-to-2-to-7 ratio of cerium, zirconium and oxygen, and single crystals because the atoms inside them are arranged in a continuous, unbroken lattice.
"We've done every experiment that we could think of on this compound," Dai said. "(Study co-author) Emilia Morosan's group at Rice did heat capacity work to show that the material undergoes no phase transition down to 50 millikelvin. We did very careful crystallography to show there is no disorder in the crystal. We did muon spin relaxation experiments that demonstrated an absence of long-range magnetic order down to 20 millikelvin, and...
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