Meet the Newest State of Matter


Image: High temperature superconductor levitating above a ring magnet. Credit: Julian Litzel/Wikimedia
Image: High temperature superconductor levitating above a ring magnet. Credit: Julian Litzel/Wikimedia
It’s only slightly less exciting than it sounds: a new state of matter. The discovery, which comes courtesy of an international team led by Kosmas Prassides of Tokohu University in Japan, offers a novel material with an unusual combination of properties—insulator, superconductor, metal, magnet. Of particular interest is the hint of high-temperature superconductivity, something of a materials science holy grail and a persistent physics mystery.


By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

So, there are lots of different states of matter. We all know solids, liquids, gases, and, probably, plasmas, but beyond these there’s an entire catalog of matter alternatives: Bose–Einstein condensate, degenerate matter, supersolids/superfluids, quark-gluon plasma, etc. The difference is that all those alternatives are lab-created and don’t have much place out in the real world of nature. The Prassides group’s new material is one of those states, a crystalline arrangement of carbon-60 molecules, better known as buckyballs, doped with rubidium atoms, which are used here to control and maintain distances between the buckyballs, tuning the material’s properties/phases.

It’s in this tuning that we find the new, previously unknown state or states of matter, which are known as a „Jahn–Teller metals“ after the Jahn-Teller effect, which relates structural deformations among molecules found within a material to its electrical properties. Put simply, by applying or removing pressure, it’s possible to boost the conductivity of what may have been an insulator at lower pressures. High pressure: conductivity.

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