Quantum Physicists Create New Electronic Material: Next-Gen Electromagnets Inspired by Japanese Kagome Basket Weaving

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 - 1:20PM
Tuesday, 20 March 2018 - 1:20PM
Quantum Physicists Create New Electronic Material: Next-Gen Electromagnets Inspired by Japanese Kagome Basket Weaving
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Image credit: Felice Frankel/Chelsea Turner
Scientists have managed to create a brand new form of quantum electronic material by organizing metal atoms into a strong, sturdy new shape. The atoms' structure means that the material is capable of improved conduction, which could be used for a new generation of advanced electromagnets.

This is a big step forward that quantum physicists have been working towards for years now, and it's all thanks to the ancient Japanese art of basket weaving.

Kagome baskets have been made by hand in Japan for centuries. Long, thin strips of bamboo are latticed together in complex patterns that distribute weight in such a way that the baskets can hold a phenomenal weight. This application of physics has fascinated quantum physicists for its ability to create a tightly knit structure that can withstand a lot of pressure, and as such, scientists have been experimenting with pushing metal atoms into a similar structure so as to take advantage of kagome patterns on a quantum level.

Just as Kagome baskets involve repeating triangular patterns, the newly created kagome metal is made from layer upon layer of iron and tin atoms, all stacked on top of each other so that they interlace and become a strong, conductive material.

In essence, this is a three-dimensional cousin to the Quantum Hall effect, in which a 2D material will gain conductive properties as electrons skirt around its outside with barely any friction. This is the first time that such a phenomenon has been created in 3D, and it's enough to get experts excited.

According to Joseph Checkelsky, assistant professor of physics at MIT:

Opening quote
""By constructing the kagome network of iron, which is inherently magnetic, this exotic behavior persists to room temperature and higher. The charges in the crystal feel not only the magnetic fields from these atoms, but also a purely quantum-mechanical magnetic force from the lattice. This could lead to perfect conduction, akin to superconductivity, in future generations of materials."
Closing quote

One of the big problems with a lot of quantum physics is that it's only applicable on a microscopic scale. Many experiments involve cooling atoms until they reach near absolute zero, and when a mixture is allowed to warm up, everything dissipates as electrons start spinning around faster, and atoms start vibrating.

According to Checkelsky, though, it's possible that this new kagome material will be able to withstand the pressure of its particles buzzing around at room temperature, which could mean that this will have practical application in a variety of fields.

Electromagnets are used in many important scientific devices, such as MRI scanners and X-ray machines. An improvement to the power of electromagnets could potentially mean that many electronic devices, both commonplace and specialized for certain scientific research, could receive an upgrade in the future.

Even more intriguing is the possibility that kagome metal could be used to create the currently in-development quantum computers of the future, as this technology allows for a machine with a phenomenally powerful computing speed that far outstrips everything that exists at present.

A lot of big innovations could be on the horizon as scientists continue to experiment with this new form of electronic material, all as a result of paying close attention to Japanese basketry.