Duke University postdoctoral fellow Sho Yaida has just solved a 30-year mystery in the physics world with 30 pages of calculations, revealing a strange new state of matter in the process. The mystery arose initially when observations of glass, plastic, and other materials appeared to have “disordered” atomic structures and physical behavior, in contrast to the orderly atomic structures of crystals. These observations led physicists to theorize about some kind of phase transition—one that would be present in theoretical models of disordered materials as well as actual materials like glass.
Yaida used algebra and particle physics to calculate and prove — by hand, no less — that some kinds of glass at low temperatures may exist within a new state of matter. This changes when and how they break, and how they respond to stress, heat, and sound. The breakthrough here is that the phase transition can exist, not just in a theoretical Universe with infinite numbers of dimensions, but also in a real world setting.