An international team of researchers have for the first time observed a nanoscale symmetry hidden in solid state matter that shows the same attributes as the well known golden ratiofrom art and architecture. The new discovery appears in the current issue of Science.
To reveal the hidden quantum symmetry, the researchers worked with the magnetic material cobalt niobate in “chains” only one atom wide. When applying a magnetic field at right angles to an aligned spin the magnetic chain transforms into a quantum critical state. “The system reaches a quantum uncertain – or a Schrödinger cat state. This is what we did in our experiments with cobalt niobate. We have tuned the system exactly in order to turn it quantum critical,” explained researcher Prof. Alan Tennant, from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin f�r Materialien und Energie in Germany.
Dr. Coldea is convinced that this is no coincidence. “It reflects a beautiful property of the quantum system – a hidden symmetry. Actually quite a special one called E8 by mathematicians, and this is its first observation in a material,” he adds.
The observed resonant states provide a dramatic illustration of the way in which mathematical theories developed for classical physics may find application in nanoscale science. “Such discoveries are leading physicists to speculate that the quantum, atomic scale world may have its own underlying order. Similar surprises may await researchers in other materials in the quantum critical state,” noted Prof. Tennant.
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