Graph of Bose-Enstein condensates.
Physicists have developed a mathematical theory describing how the collective quantum mechanical weirdness of peculiar materials such as magnets, superfluids and neutron star matter.
“It’s like shooting many, many birds with one stone,” says particle physicist Hitoshi Murayama of UC Berkeley, co-author of a paper on the work. He showed that the behavior of these materials hinges on a phenomenon known as spontaneous symmetry breaking.
According to Wired magazine:
Symmetry breaking happens when a group of particles that once had no preferred alignment or direction suddenly does, creating a collective behavior.
One of the best-known occurrences of symmetry breaking happens when certain metals ~ such as iron ~ cool down and form a magnet. Each atom in the metal contains an electron that forms a microscopic magnetic field. When the metal is hot, the atoms have their individual magnets pointing willy-nilly in random directions.
But as they cool down, the atoms start to point their magnets in the same direction as their neighbors. If enough of the atomic magnetic fields align, their collective action will be strong enough to attract and repel other magnetic materials.
“It is a neat tie-up of things that we know about individually,” said condensed-matter physicist Anthony Leggett of the University of Illinois, who was not involved in the work. “With this theory, it may be possible to predict or classify new materials.”
Click here for the complete article.