A new research has revealed that an exotic state of matter can open a new path to quantum computers and other next-generation electronics.
Physicists at the University of Michigan have discovered or confirmed several properties of the compound samarium hexaboride and say their results also close the case of how to classify the material, a mystery that has been investigated since the late 1960s.
The researchers provide the first direct evidence that samarium hexaboride, abbreviated as SmB6, is a topological insulator that are, to physicists, an exciting class of solids that conduct electricity like a metal across their surface, but block the flow of current like rubber through their interior.
They behave in this two-faced way despite that their chemical composition is the same throughout and the surface of samarium hexaboride holds rare Dirac electrons, particles with the potential to help researchers overcome one of the biggest hurdles in quantum computing.
These properties are particularly enticing to scientists because SmB6 is considered a strongly correlated material. Its electrons interact more closely with one another than most solids. This helps its interior maintain electricity-blocking behavior.
Co-author Lu Li said that this deeper understanding of samarium hexaboride raises the possibility that engineers might one day route the flow of electric current in quantum computers like they do on silicon in conventional electronics.
Li added that before this, no one had found Dirac electrons in a strongly correlated material and they thought strong correlation would hurt them, but now they know it doesn't.
Li continued that while he doesn't think this material is the answer, now they know that this combination of properties is possible and they can look for other candidates.
The study is published in Science.