The new electronic state of matter could advance research in quantum physics, further advancing technology.  (Image Credit: Yun-Yi Pai)


Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physics and Astronomy have announced the discovery of a new electronic state of matter on the quantum scale. It forms when bunches of two, three, four and five electrons clump together while in transit. Their new discovery could further advance our understanding of quantum physics. The team published their findings in journal Science on February 14, 2020.


As an electric current is applied to semiconductors or metals, the electrons move slowly and a bit aimlessly in one direction. However, when the electrons are in a special medium, called ballistic conductor, their movements are much faster and more organized. During the study, scientists discovered how very thin ballistic conducting wires allowed electrons to clump up together, creating a new electronic state of matter made from speeding electrons.


“Normally, electrons in semiconductors or metals move and scatter and eventually drift in one direction if you apply a voltage. But in ballistic conductors (conduction that doesn’t scatter electrons), electrons move more like cars on a highway. The advantage of that is they don’t give off heat and may be used in ways that are quite different from ordinary electronics. Researchers before us have succeeded in creating this kind of ballistic conductor,” said Jeremy Levy, a professor of condensed matter physics from the University of Pittsburgh.


“The discovery we made shows that when electrons can be made to attract one another, they can form bunches of two, three, four and five electrons that literally behave like new types of particles, new forms of electronic matter.”


The ballistic conductor used in the team’s study was made from lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate. Ballistic conductors can also be used to stretch the boundaries of what’s possible in electronics and physics.


When the team measured the levels of conductance, they discovered that the ballistic sequence conductors matched Pascal’s Triangle, a well-known pattern in mathematics. Whenever the conductance increased, it moved up one step in a pattern matching one of the Pascal’s Triangle rows, in the sequence of 1, 3, 6, 10.

“If you look along different directions of Pascal’s Triangle, you can see different number patterns and one of the patterns was one, three, six, 10, 15, 21. This is a sequence we noticed in our data, so it became a challenging clue as to what was actually going on. The discovery took us some time to understand, but it was because we initially did not realize we were looking at particles made up of one electron, two electrons, three electrons and so forth. If you combine all this together, you get the sequence of 1, 3, 6, 10.”


These new particles contain properties that are similar to quantum entanglement, which is a major step towards the progression of quantum computing and quantum redistribution.


“This research falls within a larger effort here in Pittsburgh to develop new science and technologies related to the second quantum revolution,” Levy said.


“In the first quantum revolution, people discovered the world around them was governed fundamentally by laws of quantum physics. That discovery led to an understanding of the periodic table, how materials behave and helped in the development of transistors, computers, MRI scanners and information technology.”


“Now in the 21st century, we’re looking at all the strange predictions of quantum physics and turning them around and using them. When you talk about applications, we’re thinking about quantum computing, quantum teleportation, quantum communications, quantum sensing—ideas that use properties of the quantum nature of matter that were ignored before.”



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