Scientists Observed a New State of Matter Called Quantum Spin Liquids

Leading to a potential breakthrough in quantum computing.
Chris Young
The photo credit line may appear like thismviamonte/iStock

Harvard scientists made a world-first observation of a new state of matter that was originally hypothesized almost half a century ago, a report from New Atlas reveals.

The material, called quantum spin liquid, has potential applications for quantum computing and could, therefore, help to accelerate the oncoming paradigm shift away from classical computing.

Harvard scientists prove a decades-old hypothesis

In 1973, physicist Philip Anderson hypothesized the existence of an exotic state of matter called quantum spin liquids. When cooled, the material's electrons wouldn't stabilize, as is the case with regular magnetic materials. Instead, the electrons in quantum spin liquids would entangle with each other and constantly switch around due to quirks of quantum mechanics. In a press statement, the Harvard scientists describe this as "one of the most entangled quantum states ever conceived."

Almost 50 years later, the Harvard team created and closely observed a quantum spin liquid for the first time, proving Anderson's hypothesis. In order to create the material, they utilized a quantum simulator that uses lasers to suspend 219 atoms in a grid. These lasers allow users to control the atoms, even down to the spin of their electrons, allowing them to investigate the microscale behavior of materials.

The special properties of the Harvard scientists' new material could help to progress the field of quantum computing. The team outlines its findings in a research paper in the journal Science. "It is a very special moment in the field," Mikhail Lukin, an author of the study, said in the Harvard statement. "You can really touch, poke, and prod at this exotic state and manipulate it to understand its properties. … It’s a new state of matter that people have never been able to observe."

A quantum leap for quantum computing?

More specifically, the Harvard team's investigation into quantum spin liquids could lead to the creation of more reliable qubits, which are the quantum computing equivalent of the bit used in classical computing. Though qubits hold great potential for processing vast amounts of data in a fraction of the time, they are notoriously difficult to stabilize as they are incredibly sensitive to external interference such as temperature and vibrations.

According to the lead author of the study, Giulia Semeghini, the team has showed "the very first steps on how to create this topological qubit, but [they] still need to demonstrate how you can actually encode it and manipulate it. There’s now a lot more to explore." The Harvard researchers will continue to investigate quantum spin liquids in their bid to help develop stable qubits, the building blocks of quantum computing.

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