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A fractal is any geometric pattern that occurs again and again, at different sizes and scales, within the same object. This "self-similarity" can be seen throughout nature, for example in a snowflake's edge, a river network, the splitting veins in a fern, and the crackling forks of lightning.
Now physicists at MIT and elsewhere have for the first time discovered fractal-like patterns in a quantum material—a material that exhibits strange electronic or magnetic behavior, as a result of quantum, atomic-scale effects.
Material - Question - Oxide - NdNiO3 - Earth
The material in question is neodymium nickel oxide, or NdNiO3, a rare earth nickelate that can act, paradoxically, as both an electrical conductor and insulator, depending on its temperature. The material also happens to be magnetic, though the orientation of its magnetism is not uniform throughout the material, but rather resembles a patchwork of "domains." Each domain represents a region of the material with a particular magnetic orientation, and domains can vary in size and shape throughout the material.
In their study, the researchers identified a fractal-like pattern within the texture of the material's magnetic domains. They found that the distribution of domain sizes resembles a downward slope, reflecting a higher number of small domains and a lower number of large domains. If the researchers zoomed in on any part of the total distribution—say, a slice of midsized domains—they observed the same downward-sloping pattern, with a higher number of smaller versus larger domains.
Distribution - Material - Matter - Size - Range
As it turns out, this same distribution appears repeatedly throughout the material, no matter the size range, or scale at which it's observed— a quality that the team recognized as fractal in nature.
"The domain pattern was hard to decipher at first, but after analyzing the statistics of domain distribution, we realized it had a fractal behavior," says Riccardo Comin, assistant professor of physics at MIT. "It was completely unexpected—it was...
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