Another dimension: designing magnets to explore fundamental physics
(30 April 2014)
A collaboration of scientists from the UK, Germany and the US have revealed the possibility of manipulating the number of dimensions of a material, in research published this week in Physical Review Letters. The work shows how it is possible to design magnetic materials which act as if they are made from two dimensional planes, one-dimensional chains or even zero-dimensional points. By making magnetic materials out of molecular building blocks - effectively nanoscale LEGO - the researchers have shown that it is possible to tune the number of dimensions of a system and that this strongly affects the properties of the materials.
Dr Tom Lancaster of Durham University, who led the team responsible for the work, explained: "the experience of a being who lives in the flat-land of two dimensions is very different to that living in the line-land of one dimension. Quantum mechanics tells us that the behaviour of the one-dimensional magnet we have discovered shows vastly different properties to that of the zero-dimensional one that we synthesised from the same building blocks". Although the prospect of a zero-dimensional solid sounds strange, it turns out that it may be used to simulate the behaviour of other quantum mechanical systems, as Dr Lancaster explained: "The physics of Bose-Einstein condensation in cold atoms is very similar to that of our zero-dimensional system and opens up the possibility of us being able to build magnets that allow us to simulate other exotic, quantum mechanics systems in the laboratory".
The research shows the potential for these molecular materials in the design and realization of bespoke magnetic systems, which have applications in the investigation of fundamental physics or in future devices based on the unusual quantum mechanics that operates when the dimensionality of a system is manipulated.