Hard Science

Physicists Discover A New Phase of Matter

A New Superconductor

David Hsieh and his team of physicists at Caltech have discovered a new and unusual form of matter characterized by an unusual ordering of electrons. Unlike most phases in matter, this one is not a conventional metal, insulator, or magnet. The new phase was discovered while the team was testing a laser-based measurement technique in search of a multipolar order. Hsieh says that “the discovery of this phase was completely unexpected and not based on any prior theoretical prediction. The whole field of electronic materials is driven by the discovery of new phases, which provide the playgrounds in which to search for new macroscopic physical properties.”

Strontium-Iridium Oxide

The discovery offers new insight into its potential applications for electronic devices. The compound researchers studied was called strontium-iridium oxide, a synthetic compound (iridates) that shares features with copper-oxide-based compounds (cuprates) which are known to exhibit superconductivity at high temperatures. “Given the highly similar phenomenology of the iridates and cuprates, perhaps iridates will help us resolve some of the longstanding debates about the relationship between the pseudogap and high-temperature superconductivity,” says Hsieh.

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