MIT physicists discover new way to create strange metal

Sketch of the electronic interactions inside a quantum material that result in a strange metal. Credit: Paul Neves.

In an exciting development at MIT, physicists have found a new method to create a state of matter known as a “strange metal.”

This discovery was made while experimenting with a quantum material shaped like a sheriff’s star, which has properties significantly different from conventional metals like copper.

Strange metals are not just unusual due to their unique electronic behaviors; they are also crucial in the study of high-temperature superconductors, which have a wide range of potential applications.

The research, led by Associate Professor Joseph G. Checkelsky, introduces a novel approach to producing and analyzing these metals.

Linda Ye, a recent MIT Ph.D. graduate and the paper’s first author, explains that understanding strange metals has been challenging.

Their research could pave the way for new insights into high-temperature superconductors.

Ye, now an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, emphasizes the potential impact of their findings on developing a unified theory for the behavior of strange metals.

The team’s work was published in Nature Physics, alongside a commentary titled, “A strange way to get a strange metal.”

This follows their earlier research in 2018, where they explored a type of quantum material known as kagome metals, named after a pattern that resembles a Star of David or sheriff’s badge.

This pattern is also a popular motif in Japanese basket-weaving.

Their initial study in 2018 identified the presence of Dirac fermions, particles that are nearly massless and behave similarly to light photons, in kagome metals.

While Dirac fermions were somewhat expected based on theoretical predictions, the strange metals they discovered more recently were a complete surprise.

The current breakthrough came while the team was investigating another intriguing aspect of the kagome lattice known as a flat band.

In this state, electrons are so constrained that they almost stand still, though they continue to spin. This immobilization allows the electrons to interact intensely with each other.

During their experiments, which involved applying high pressure and a magnetic field, the team found that these interactions transform the normally calm “sea” of electrons into a tumultuous “storm,” giving rise to the strange metal state.

This transformation underscores the complex and dynamic nature of electron interactions in these materials.

Ye is excited about the implications of their discovery, noting that the kagome lattice could be a key principle in designing new electronic states. She is now looking to extend this research to other lattice structures.

This long-term project, which Ye began around 2015, has been both challenging and rewarding, leading to many fascinating discoveries along the way.

The research team includes several other members from MIT, highlighting the collaborative nature of this scientific endeavor.