Probing a rare material spin state

Sep 14, 2007

A team of international physicists that includes researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology has found experimental evidence of a highly sought-after type of arrangement of atomic magnetic moments, or spins, in a series of materials. Their work, one of the very few studies of this particular spin state, which has been postulated as a possible underlying mechanism for high-temperature superconductivity, may eventually serve as a test of current and future theoretical models of exotic spin states.

At the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) and the Hahn-Meitner Institute in Berlin, Germany, the scientists used intense beams of neutrons to probe a series of antiferromagnets, materials in which each spin—an intrinsic property of an atom that produces a tiny magnetic field called a magnetic “moment”—cancels another, giving the material a net magnetic field of zero.

The results, described in the Aug. 26 online edition of Nature Materials, revealed evidence of a rare and pporly understood “quantum paramagnetic” spin state, in which neighboring spins pair up to form “entangled spin singlets” that have an ordered pattern and that allow the material to weakly respond to an outside magnetic field—i.e., become paramagnetic.

The antiferromagnets used in this work are composed mainly of zinc and copper, and are distinguished by their proportions of each, with the number of copper ions determined by the number of zinc ions. At the atomic level, the material is formed of many repeating layers. The atoms of each layer are arranged into a structure known as a “kagome lattice,” a pattern of triangles laid point-to-point whose basic unit resembles a six-point star.

Physicists have been studying antiferromagnets with kagome structures over the last 20 years because they suspected these materials harbored interesting spin structures. But good model systems, like the zinc/copper compounds used by this group, had not been identified.

At the NCNR, the researchers determined how varying concentrations of zinc and copper and varying temperatures affected fluctuations in the way the spins are arranged in these materials. Using a neutron spectrometer at the Hahn-Meitner Institute, they also investigated the effect of external magnetic fields of varying strengths. The group uncovered several magnetic phases in addition to the quantum paramagnetic state and were able to construct a complete phase diagram as a function of the zinc concentration and temperature. They are planning further experimental and theoretical studies to learn more about the kagome system.

Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Explore further: Can perovskites and silicon team up to boost industrial solar cell efficiencies?

Related Stories

New 'knobs' can dial in control of materials

Feb 25, 2015

Designing or exploring new materials is all about controlling their properties. In a new study, Cornell scientists offer insight on how different "knobs" can change material properties in ways that were previously ...

Humble neutron is valuable tool in geology

Mar 16, 2015

With the ability to analyse the properties of the Earth's internal components to the atomic scale in conditions only found kilometres below our feet, recent studies have allowed geoscientists to study our ...

Recommended for you

New insights found in black hole collisions

Mar 27, 2015

New research provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole.

X-rays probe LHC for cause of short circuit

Mar 27, 2015

The LHC has now transitioned from powering tests to the machine checkout phase. This phase involves the full-scale tests of all systems in preparation for beam. Early last Saturday morning, during the ramp-down, ...

Swimming algae offer insights into living fluid dynamics

Mar 27, 2015

None of us would be alive if sperm cells didn't know how to swim, or if the cilia in our lungs couldn't prevent fluid buildup. But we know very little about the dynamics of so-called "living fluids," those ...

First glimpse inside a macroscopic quantum state

Mar 27, 2015

In a recent study published in Physical Review Letters, the research group led by ICREA Prof at ICFO Morgan Mitchell has detected, for the first time, entanglement among individual photon pairs in a beam ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.