Sapienza: new phase of matter opens up revolutionary prospects for high technology
An important discovery for the development of innovative technological devices comes from Sapienza University of Rome that earned publication in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications: also solid matter has a “soft” property, which stems from competing phases of the electrons that make it up.
“Hard” matter electrons, in fact, can be found in different states (“phases”) that give the material very different properties: insulating, conducting, superconducting, magnetic, etc. Researchers are studying with great interest the systems in which different electronic phases manage to coexist or compete, to investigate the possibility of creating states with new properties and great application potential.
The Sapienza study, carried out in collaboration with the National Research Council (CNR), has revealed an “electronic softness” when phases with different electron density compete creating fluctuations and lack of homogeneity of matter: in this way electrons can be ordered by density, just as it happens in traditional soft matter systems, used, for example, in LCD monitors.
The Italian researchers focused on high-temperature superconductors, in which two different electronic states compete with each other: the state in which electrons are arranged generating a magnetic insulating property and the state in which electrons tend to move, forming a superconducting metal. The study revealed that under this condition a new phase of matter, called “ferro-nematic”, is produced, in which the material is polymerized and electrons are aligned in segments arranged by direction and orientation, just as liquid crystals do.
“Traditional soft matter molecules – explained physicist Marco Grilli (pictured), professor of condensed matter at Sapienza University – can be considered as non-quantum objects and imagined as a set of ball atoms, while electrons in solids are intrinsically quantum objects and should be imagined as waves: that is why it is surprising that they have properties similar to molecules; the interesting thing that emerges from our study is that these electronic softness phenomena seem to be common and present in different materials, so that we can suggest a theory about a new phase of matter”.
“Knowledge and ability to intervene in these states of matter – continued Grilli, one of the authors of a new study published in Nature Physics – open up a new direction for the physics of hard material, in which the emerging soft electronic matter may come manipulated: this would offer new possibilities for the use of soft materials with electrons in high-technology devices; the malleability of soft electronic matter may, in fact, find many applications in microelectronics and lead to achieving new ultra-fast transistors, superconductors and light ultra-sensitive detectors”.