The mystery of strange metals has finally been solved

"For a long time, people were making this whole story of strange metals unnecessarily complicated, and that was just not the right thing to do.”
Loukia Papadopoulos
The electrons found in strange metals.jpg
The electrons found in strange metals.

Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Simons Foundation 

Materials referred to as ‘strange metals’ have puzzled quantum physicists for many years due to their unique ability to function outside the normal rules of electricity.

Now research led by Aavishkar Patel of the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Quantum Physics (CCQ) in New York City may have found the reason behind this odd behavior.

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Thursday.

Many oddities

“The surprisingly simple new theory explains many oddities about strange metals, such as why the change in electrical resistivity — a measure of how easily electrons can flow through the material as electrical current — is directly proportional to the temperature, even down to extremely low temperatures. That relationship means that a strange metal resists the flow of electrons more than an ordinary metal such as gold or copper at the same temperature,” noted the press statement.

The new theory combines two properties of the materials: the fact that their electrons can become quantum mechanically entangled with one another and the fact that they exhibit a nonuniform, patchwork-like arrangement of atoms.

Once these two facts are put together “everything just falls into place,” said Patel. The non uniformity of a strange metal’s atomic layout leads the electron entanglements to vary which adds randomness to the momentum of the electrons as they move through the material and interact with each other.

The electrons don’t move together instead choosing to knock each other around in all directions, resulting in electrical resistance. And this behavior is only amplified the more temperature rises leading electrical resistance to rise alongside heat.

“This interplay of entanglement and nonuniformity is a new effect; it hadn’t been considered ever before for any material,” Patel said. “In retrospect, it’s an extremely simple thing. For a long time, people were making this whole story of strange metals unnecessarily complicated, and that was just not the right thing to do.”

New applications

Patel now hopes his finding could help in the development of new superconductors for applications such as quantum computers. In addition, the discovery could help researchers in identifying new kinds of superconductive materials.

“There are instances where something wants to go superconducting but doesn’t quite do so, because superconductivity is blocked by another competing state,” he added. “One could ask then if the presence of these nonuniformities can destroy these other states that superconductivity competes with and leave the road open for superconductivity.”

The researcher now would like to change the name of strange metals since they are no longer such a mystery. “I would like to call them unusual metals at this point, not strange,” Patel added.

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