Quantum physicists crack mystery of 'strange metals,' a new state of matter

July 23, 2020

Even by the standards of quantum physicists, strange metals are just plain odd. The materials are related to high-temperature superconductors and have surprising connections to the properties of black holes. Electrons in strange metals dissipate energy as fast as they're allowed to under the laws of quantum mechanics, and the electrical resistivity of a strange metal, unlike that of ordinary metals, is proportional to the temperature.

Generating a theoretical understanding of strange metals is one of the biggest challenges in condensed matter physics. Now, using cutting-edge computational techniques, researchers from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The fact that we call them strange metals should tell you how well we understand them," says study co-author Olivier Parcollet, a senior research scientist at the Flatiron Institute's

In addition to Parcollet, the research team consisted of Cornell doctoral student Peter Cha, CCQ associate data scientist Nils Wentzell, CCQ director Antoine Georges, and Cornell physics professor Eun-Ah Kim.

In the quantum mechanical world, electrical resistance is a byproduct of electrons bumping into things. As electrons flow through a metal, they bounce off other electrons or impurities in the metal. The more time there is between these collisions, the lower the material's electrical resistance.

For typical metals, electrical resistance increases with temperature, following a complex equation. But in unusual cases, such as when a high-temperature superconductor is heated just above the point where it stops superconducting, the equation becomes much more straightforward. In a strange metal, electrical conductivity is linked directly to temperature and to two fundamental constants of the universe: Planck's constant and Boltzmann's constant. Consequently, strange metals are also known as Planckian metals.

Models of strange metals have existed for decades, but accurately solving such models proved out of reach with existing methods. Quantum entanglements between electrons mean that physicists can't treat the electrons individually, and the sheer number of particles in a material makes the calculations even more daunting.

Cha and his colleagues employed two different methods to crack the problem. First, they used a quantum embedding method based on ideas developed by Georges in the early '90s. With this method, instead of performing detailed computations across the whole quantum system, physicists perform detailed calculations on only a few atoms and treat the rest of the system more simply. They then used a quantum Monte Carlo algorithm (named for the Mediterranean casino), which uses random sampling to compute the answer to a problem. The researchers solved the model of strange metals down to absolute zero (minus 273.15 degrees Celsius), the unreachable lower limit for temperatures in the universe.

The resulting theoretical model reveals the existence of strange metals as a new state of matter bordering two previously known phases of matter: Mott insulating spin glasses and Fermi liquids. "We found there is a whole region in the phase space that is exhibiting a Planckian behavior that belongs to neither of the two phases that we're transitioning between," Kim says. "This quantum spin liquid state is not so locked down, but it's also not completely free. It is a sluggish, soupy, slushy state. It is metallic but reluctantly metallic, and it's pushing the degree of chaos to the limit of quantum mechanics."

The new work could help physicists better understand the physics of higher-temperature superconductors. Perhaps surprisingly, the work has links to astrophysics. Like strange metals, black holes exhibit properties that depend only on temperature and the Planck and Boltzmann constants, such as the amount of time a black hole 'rings' after merging with another black hole. "The fact that you find this same scaling across all these different systems, from Planckian metals to black holes, is fascinating," Parcollet says.

The Flatiron Institute is the research division of the Simons Foundation. The institute's mission is to advance scientific research through computational methods, including data analysis, theory, modeling and simulation. The institute's Center for Computational Quantum Physics aims to develop the concepts, theories, algorithms and codes needed to solve the quantum many-body problem and to use the solutions to predict the behavior of materials and molecules of scientific and technological interest.

Simons Foundation

Related Black Holes Articles from Brightsurf:

The black hole always chirps twice: New clues deciphering the shape of black holes
A team of gravitational-wave scientists led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) reveal that when two black holes collide and merge, the remnant black hole 'chirps' not once, but multiple times, emitting gravitational waves--intense ripples in the fabric space and time--that inform us about its shape.

Black holes? They are like a hologram
Spherical, smooth and simple according to the theory of relativity, or extremely complex and full of information as, according to quantum laws, Stephen Hawking used to say?

Under pressure, black holes feast
A new, Yale-led study shows that some supermassive black holes actually thrive under pressure.

Staining cycles with black holes
In the treatment of tumors, microenvironment plays an important role.

Black holes sometimes behave like conventional quantum systems
A group of Skoltech researchers led by Professor Anatoly Dymarsky have studied the emergence of generalized thermal ensembles in quantum systems with additional symmetries.

Scientists may have discovered whole new class of black holes
New research shows that astronomers' search for black holes might have been missing an entire class of black holes that they didn't know existed.

Are black holes made of dark energy?
Two University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers have identified and corrected a subtle error that was made when applying Einstein's equations to model the growth of the universe.

Telescopes in space for even sharper images of black holes
Astronomers have just managed to take the first image of a black hole, and now the next challenge facing them is how to take even sharper images, so that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity can be tested.

Can entangled qubits be used to probe black holes?
Information escapes from black holes via Hawking radiation, so it should be possible to capture it and use it to reconstruct what fell in: if given time longer than the age of the universe.

How black holes power plasma jets
Cosmic robbery powers the jets streaming from a black hole, new simulations reveal.

Read More: Black Holes News and Black Holes Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.