Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Magnetism's subatomic roots: Study of high-tech materials helps explain everyday phenomenon

Date:
September 4, 2010
Source:
Rice University
Summary:
Theoretical physicists have created a new model that helps define the subatomic origins of ferromagnetism -- the everyday "magnetism" of compass needles and refrigerator magnets. The model was created to explore the inner workings of ferromagnetic compounds that are related to high-temperature superconductors.

A new theoretical physics model helps define the subatomic origins of ferromagnetism -- the everyday "magnetism" of compass needles and refrigerator magnets.
Credit: iStockphoto

The modern world -- with its ubiquitous electronic devices and electrical power -- can trace its lineage directly to the discovery, less than two centuries ago, of the link between electricity and magnetism. But while engineers have harnessed electromagnetic forces on a global scale, physicists still struggle to describe the dance between electrons that creates magnetic fields.

Two theoretical physicists from Rice University are reporting initial success in that area in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their new conceptual model, which was created to learn more about the quantum quirks of high-temperature superconductors and other high-tech materials, has also proven useful in describing the origins of ferromagnetism -- the everyday "magnetism" of compass needles and refrigerator magnets.

"As a theorist, you strive to have exact solutions, and even though our new model is purely theoretical, it does produce results that match what's observed in the real world," said Rice physicist Qimiao Si, the lead author of the paper. "In that sense, it is reassuring to have designed a model system in which ferromagnetism is allowed."

Ferromagnets are what most people think of as magnets. They're the permanently magnetic materials that keep notes stuck to refrigerators the world over. Scientists have long understood the large-scale workings of ferromagnets, which can be described theoretically from a coarse-grained perspective. But at a deeper, fine-grained level -- down at the scale of atoms and electrons -- the origins of ferromagnetism remain fuzzy.

"When we started on this project, we were aware of the surprising lack of theoretical progress that had been made on metallic ferromagnetism," Si said. "Even a seemingly simple question, like why an everyday refrigerator magnet forms out of electrons that interact with each other, has no rigorous answer."

Si and graduate student Seiji Yamamoto's interest in the foundations of ferromagnetism stemmed from the study of materials that were far from ordinary.

Si's specialty is an area of condensed matter physics that grew out of the discovery more than 20 years ago of high-temperature superconductivity. In 2001, Si offered a new theory to explain the behavior of the class of materials that includes high-temperature superconductors. This class of materials -- known as "quantum correlated matter" -- also includes more than 10 known types of ferromagnetic composites.

Si's 2001 theory and his subsequent work have aimed to explain the experimentally observed behavior of quantum-correlated materials based upon the strangely correlated interplay between electrons that goes on inside them. In particular, he focuses on the correlated electron effect that occur as the materials approach a "quantum critical point," a tipping point that's the quantum equivalent of the abrupt solid-to-liquid change that occurs when ice melts.

The quantum critical point that plays a key role in high-temperature superconductivity is the tipping point that marks a shift to antiferromagnetism, a magnetic state that has markedly different subatomic characteristics from ferromagnetism. Because of the key role in high-temperature superconductivity, most studies in the field have focused on antiferromagnetism. In contrast, ferromagnetism -- the more familiar, everyday form of magnetism -- has received much less attention theoretically in quantum-correlated materials.

"So our initial theoretical question was, 'What would happen, in terms of correlated electron effects, when a ferromagnetic material moves through one of these quantum tipping points?" said Yamamoto, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla..

To carry out this thought experiment, Si and Yamamoto created a model system that idealizes what exists in nature. Their jumping off point was a well-studied phenomenon known as the Kondo effect -- which also has its roots in quantum magnetic effects. Based on what they knew of this effect, they created a model of a "Kondo lattice," a fine-grained mesh of electrons that behaved like those that had been observed in Kondo studies of real-world materials.

Si and Yamamoto were able to use the model to provide a rigorous answer about the fine-grained origins of metallic ferromagnetism. Furthermore, the ferromagnetic state that was predicted by the model turned out to have quantum properties that closely resemble those observed experimentally in heavy fermion ferromagnets.

"The model is useful because it allows us to predict how real-world materials might behave under a specific set of circumstances," Yamamoto said. "And, in fact, we have been able to use it to explain experimental observations on heavy fermion metals, including both the antiferromagnets as well as the less well understood ferromagnetic materials."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rice University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. J. Yamamoto, Q. Si. Metallic ferromagnetism in the Kondo lattice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009498107

Cite This Page:

Rice University. "Magnetism's subatomic roots: Study of high-tech materials helps explain everyday phenomenon." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903121418.htm>.
Rice University. (2010, September 4). Magnetism's subatomic roots: Study of high-tech materials helps explain everyday phenomenon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903121418.htm
Rice University. "Magnetism's subatomic roots: Study of high-tech materials helps explain everyday phenomenon." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903121418.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stranded Whale Watching Boat Returns to Boston

Stranded Whale Watching Boat Returns to Boston

Reuters - US Online Video (July 29, 2014) Passengers stuck overnight on a whale watching boat return safely to Boston. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

AFP (July 29, 2014) Coal mining is one of the major industries in Baluchistan but a lack of infrastructure and frequent accidents mean that the area has yet to hit its potential. Duration: 01:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

AP (July 29, 2014) The U.S. nuclear industry started building its first new plants using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and prevent the cost overruns that crippled the sector decades ago. So far, it's not working. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins