HomeScience and ResearchScientific ResearchPhysicists Observe Nature Moving In The Wrong Direction - New Experiment

Physicists Observe Nature Moving In The Wrong Direction – New Experiment

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When a magnetic material is heated, physicists have observed a weird new form of behavior. When the temperature increases, the magnetic spins ‘freeze’ into a static pattern, a phenomena that generally occurs when the temperature decreases. 

The findings of the study were published today in Nature Physics.

The phenomenon was found in the element neodymium, which scientists first referred to as a “self-induced spin glass” several years ago. Spin glasses are generally alloys in which, for instance, copper atoms are randomly arranged in a grid with iron atoms. Each iron atom has a spin that makes it behave like a little magnet. There are many different directions that these spins can point.

Neodymium is an element and, in the absence of appreciable amounts of any other material, exhibits glassy behavior in its crystalline state, in contrast to ordinary spin glasses where magnetic elements are randomly mixed. The spins create patterns that whirl like a helix, and this whirling is random and changes all the time.

When heated, solid pattern

Scientists in this recent study found that when neodymium was heated from -268 degrees Celsius to -265 degrees Celsius, the spins froze into a solid pattern, creating a magnet. The random whirling helix patterns returned when the material was cooled.

“This ‘freezing’ of the pattern does not normally occur in magnetic material,” says Professor Alexander Khajetoorians from Radboud University.

Temperature increases the energy in a solid, liquid, or gas. The same holds true for a magnet: with more temperature, spins start to shake.

“The magnetic behaviour in neodymium that we observed,” according to Khajetoorians “is actually the opposite of what ‘normally’ happens. It’s quite counterintuitive, like water that becomes an ice cube when its heated up.”

In nature, these kinds of events are uncommon. There aren’t many known materials that behave wrongly. Another well-known example is the Rochelle salt, in which charges are randomly dispersed at low temperatures but stack up and create an ordered pattern at higher temperatures.

The experiment

Parisi won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2021 for his groundbreaking theoretical analysis of spin glasses. It is crucial for other scientific disciplines to understand how these spin glasses function.

“If we ultimately can model how these materials behave, this could also be extrapolated to the behaviour of a wide range of other materials.”

The concept of degeneracy, which describes a situation in which many possible states have the same energy and the system grows frustrated, was linked to the underlying strange behavior.

The temperature has the effect of breaking this impasse by allowing some states to persist and the system to clearly settle into one pattern.

Additionally, we might be able to use this behavior to develop new kinds of data storage or computational ideas, such as brain-like computing.

Image Credit: Getty

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