Revealed: The Physics of Sticky Tape (from Cosmos Magazine)

This article that I wrote for Cosmos Magazine in 2019 was selected for the 2020 Anthology of Best Australian Science Writing, my third guernsey in three years.

Bizarrely, it’s no long on the Cosmos website – although lots of my other stories are. They can’t explain this, so – since I am sure you’ve all been looking for it incessantly – I have found a web archive of it and posted it here for your delectation.

Continue Reading Revealed: The Physics of Sticky Tape (from Cosmos Magazine)

Quantum pancake reveals clues to better electronics

First published on Cosmos Magazine site, 25/9/18

An experiment with a cloud of ultracold atoms squashed into a quantum pancake has revealed never-before seen quantum effects that could lead to more efficient electronics, including high temperature superconductors.

A team at Swinburne University in Australia observed a quantum anomaly in lithium-6 gas cooled to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero and squashed between two laser beams.

“We’re seeing quantum mechanics that’s visible on a macroscopic scale – a large collection of tens of thousands of atoms all behaving quantum mechanically,” says project leader Chris Vale, a researcher at Swinburne’s Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies.

The team’s work is published in the journal Physical Review Letters, concurrently with that of a team from Heidelberg in Germany which reported similar results.

The Australian team used laser beams focused into a flat plane to create a pancake of lithium-6 gas with a radius of 200 microns and the thickness of a single atom – around 500 nanometers. Then the researchers compressed the gas slightly with a magnetic field, to set it vibrating. Shining another laser from below, they measured the vibration frequency of the gas cloud by watching the shadow of the cloud on a camera.

The frequency of this radial vibration, known as a breathing mode, gave the telltale sign of a quantum anomaly: it vibrated 2.5% faster than the classical model predicted.

Symmetry in the classical model dictates that gas properties such as pressure and density should scale in a straightforward way as the size of the gas cloud oscillates. But the full quantum analysis predicts a higher frequency: the classical theory breaks down because of strong interactions between the gas particles.

To further test the model, the scientists jammed more atoms between the laser beams, and turned the pancake from a two-dimensional crepe into a fatter flapjack. Its three-dimensional nature conformed to the classical model.

Vale says the interactions between the gas particles in the quantum crepe was mid-way between two well-known states of matter: Bose-Einstein condensates, in which atoms in a gas interact strongly and exhibit uniform quantum behaviour, and low temperature superconductivity, in which electrons in a material form weakly-bound pairs known as Cooper pairs that can carry electricity through a material with no energy loss.

“There’s a continuous crossover between these two limits, what happens in the middle is not well understood,” he says

“There’s a lot of interesting physics there. For example, this is where we find the highest superfluid transition temperatures, in the intermediate zone where the binding energy of the fermion pairs is similar to the natural energy scale for the system, the Fermi energy.”

By studying a two-dimensional system, Vale hopes to spark developments of new materials for the electronics industry, for example topological insulators or high-temperature superconductors.

In the current highest-temperature superconductors, ceramics based on copper oxide, the superconducting current is carried in two-dimensional layers within the material – although exactly how the electrons pair up is not fully understood.

The power of the experiments at Swinburne is their simplicity, says Vale – the microscopic properties of the lithium atoms and their interactions are precisely known, which is not always possible in more complex materials such as solids.

“In a sense, our cold atoms are acting as a quantum simulator, where we can test models of many-body physics with precisely known inputs that can be difficult to pin down in other materials,” he says.

Continue Reading Quantum pancake reveals clues to better electronics

Would you let me put drugs in your brain?

The amazing Dr Kiara Bruggeman gets all Dr Seuss with her rhyme about her PhD research to develop a bandaid for the brain. Previously she won FameLab people’s choice award with this piece.

 

Filmed at Health and Medical in the Pub at Smiths Alternative in Canberra. Supported by National Science Week ACT, ANU Medical School, Australian Society for Medical Research.

Continue Reading Would you let me put drugs in your brain?

A new spin on data storage

Seems physicists are inventing particles faster’n I can write about em. Who ever knew you could call a twisted magnetic field a particle?

First published here: http://www.research.a-star.edu.sg/research/7691/a-new-spin-on-data-storage, 8 May 2017.

2skyrmions
Magnetic field patterns in two types of skyrmions (Wikimedia)

Study into spirals of magnetic spin showcases potential of layered materials for future data storage

Tiny spirals of magnetism called skyrmions could be used as ultrahigh density energy-efficient data carriers.

Jarvis Loh, Gan Chee Kwan and Khoo Khoong Hong from the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing have modeled these minute spin spirals in nanoscopic crystal layers. They found that alternating layers of manganese silicide (MnSi) and cobalt silicide (CoSi) forms a promising material architecture.

“Skyrmions are nanosized entities, only tens of nanometers, so they hold the promise of higher storage density than the current technology,” said Gan.

Storage based on skyrmions would represent binary data such as ‘1’s and ‘0’s as clockwise and anticlockwise spin spirals, respectively. Skyrmions can improve energy efficiency as they can be created and manipulated with currents significantly smaller than those required for conventional magnetic hard disk technology.

Skyrmions had been experimentally observed in manganese silicide, prompting the team to explore simulations of manganese silicide in its pristine form and in combination with similar materials.

The team selected cobalt silicide because cobalt sits close to manganese in the periodic table, and its similar lattice characteristics mean it should combine well with manganese silicide. Cobalt also has strong magnetic properties — it is ferromagnetic.

The team’s simulations showed that coupling cobalt silicide to manganese silicide enables the spin spirals in manganese silicide to be engineered. “What’s interesting is that we can now vary the size of skyrmions in an easy and elegant way,” Loh said.

In the skyrmion’s center the magnetic spin of the atoms is flipped 180 degrees relative to the spin on its outside edge; between the edge and the center the spins progressively tilt between the two extremes. Critical in the size of skyrmions is the ability of the material to support high relative tilt between neighboring atoms in the lattice, which enables the skyrmion to be packed into a smaller spiral.

The team found that adding cobalt silicide layers to the manganese silicide layers increased the possible relative tilt. However there is an upper limit — for cobalt silicide layers double the thickness of the manganese silicide, the material ceased to support skyrmions and transitioned to a more conventional ferromagnetic behavior.

One of the attractions of skyrmions as a data storage medium is their robustness, says Loh. “Unlike current magnetic storage, skyrmions are resistant to defects in the lattice. They are topologically protected.”

The team plans to apply their successful approach to other potential architectures, such as nanowires.

The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the Institute of High Performance Computing.

Reference

  1. Loh, G. C., Khoo, K. H. & Gan, C. K. Helimagnetic order in bulk MnSi and CoSi/MnSi superlattices Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials 421, 31–38 (2017). | Article
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