A team of scientists from China, Hong Kong and Japan have developed a quantum simulator that allows them to observe the properties and behavior of electrons.
According to the study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, the research team built an “atomic Lego set” using graphene, a layer of carbon atoms arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice nanostructure.
Cheng Bin from Nanjing University, a co-lead in the study, explained that even today’s fastest computers would not be able to handle calculating the electrons’ interactions as they exponentially increase in complexity as the electrons grow in number.
The device, which was developed to allow scientists to finally study the interaction of electrons in a material, enabled Cheng and his team to observe the properties of 10,000 electrons.
In their experiment, the researchers cooled two separate pieces of double-layered graphene to almost absolute zero before applying an electric field.
While in the cooled state, the electrons in the material showed high resistance, a completely altered version of the original graphene material.
Tuning down the electric field triggered a phenomenon called quantum fluctuation, which caused tiny, random changes in the electrons’ positions. The electrons slowly began moving around until all of them eventually flowed like liquid water.
Cheng called the intermediate phase between the crystal and liquid states of the electrons a “quantum disorder.” This phase had never been observed before.
According to Cheng, the quantum disordered state is eliminated by adding a horizontal magnetic field to the material.
Using the device, the researchers were also able to simulate other complex quantum processes by fine-tuning the electric or magnetic fields in the material.
The research team shared that their device could simulate complex systems that may result in the discovery of new materials and eventually lead to computers that process information like human brains.