First observation of quantum spin liquid, new state of matter

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Matter has much more to offer than just liquids, solids, and gases, not to mention plasma. An international team of researchers, led by Harvard University, has documented a new state of matter: the quantum spin liquid. Its properties could allow the manufacture of more reliable quantum computers.

In 1973, physicist Philip W. Anderson theorized the existence of a new state of matter that sparked particular interest in the field, especially in the race for quantum computers. This new state of matter is called “quantum spin liquid” and, contrary to what the name suggests, it has nothing to do with standard liquids.

Rather, they are “magnetic magnets” that do not freeze, even at very low temperatures, and the way the electrons they contain behave. In ordinary magnets, when the temperature reaches a certain lower threshold, the electrons stabilize and form a solid material with magnetic properties. In a quantum spin liquid, electrons do not stabilize when cooled, they do not turn into solid matter, and they are out of order (as in a liquid).

Magnetic frustration

Spinning liquids are therefore the manifestation of a magnetic state. When matter cools, atomic spins interact more strongly with each other, and spin liquids derive their remarkable properties from a phenomenon called “magnetic frustration.” While ferromagnetism denotes, for example, magnets whose spins align in the same direction, antiferromagnetism manifests as an antiparallel alignment of the spins.

It turns out that sometimes certain configurations do not allow the spins of electrons to align in only one direction (parallel or antiparallel), and then certain interactions are “thwarted.” It is this magnetic frustration that implies maintaining the “disorder” of the spins, even at low temperatures, and maintaining the “liquid state”.

Using a programmable quantum simulator

Already predicted 50 years ago, this state of matter had never been observed before. Today, the Harvard-led team of physicists claims to have finally documented it experimentally, and their work is described in a new study published in the journal Science.

The research team set out to observe this state of matter using the programmable quantum simulator that the lab initially developed in 2017, used to study a multitude of complex quantum processes. This simulator is a special type of quantum computer, which allows researchers to create programmable shapes such as squares, honeycombs or triangular lattices, in order to design different quantum interactions and entanglements between ultracold atoms.

Harvard scientists used the simulator to create their own magnetically foiled lattice pattern, placing atoms in it to interact and become entangled. They then measured and analyzed the chains that connected the atoms after the entire structure became entangled. The presence and analysis of these chains, called topological chains, means that quantum correlations are taking place and the liquid quantum spin state of matter has emerged.

Objective: advance quantum technologies.

The different properties of quantum spin liquids have promising applications that could be used to advance quantum technologies, such as high-temperature superconductors and quantum computers.

The researchers plan to use the Programmable Quantum Simulator to continue studying quantum spin liquids and how they can be used to create more robust qubits, resistant to noise and external interference.

“It is a dream for quantum computing,” Giulia Semeghini, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Learning how to create and use such qubits would be an important step towards making reliable quantum computers. Now there is much more to explore ”.


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