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Studying a new state of matter: The quantum spin liquid

 

 

 

Refrigerator magnets and compass needles are examples of materials with interacting spin systems.   In both examples, the spins of the individual electrons inside the material tend to align in the same direction, yielding a net magnetic moment. However, theorists have predicted a new state of matter called the "quantum spin liquid" in which spins fluctuate in unusual ways. It is believed that a spin-1/2 kagomé lattice (composed of corner sharing triangles, see Figure 1) is an ideal system to look for spin liquid physics due to a high degree of spin frustration. Despite intense theoretical interest, experimental studies of the spin-1/2 kagomé lattice have been hampered by the difficulty in synthesizing such materials. Recently, Professors Lee and Nocera of the MIT MRSEC have synthesized and studied such a system [J.S. Helton et al., submitted to Physical Review Letters (cond-mat/0610539)]. As shown in Figure 2, they have succeeded in transforming the compound clinoatacamite into an ideal kagomé lattice material called herbertsmithite. Susceptibility and specific heat measurements as well as inelastic neutron scattering measurements suggest that an unusual spin-liquid state with essentially gapless excitations is realized in this kagomé lattice system. Studies of this material are expected to provide important insights into the behavior of high temperature superconductors. 

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