A new discovery led by Princeton University could upend our understanding of how electrons behave under extreme conditions in quantum materials. The finding provides experimental evidence that this familiar building block of matter behaves as if it is made of two particles: one particle that gives the electron its negative charge and another that supplies its magnet-like property, known as spin.
"We think this is the first hard evidence of spin-charge separation," said Nai Phuan Ong, Princeton's Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and senior author on the paper published this week in the journal Nature Physics.
The experimental results fulfill a prediction made decades ago to explain one of the most mind-bending states of matter, the quantum spin liquid. In all materials, the spin of an electron can point either up or down. In the familiar magnet, all of the spins uniformly point in one direction throughout the sample when the temperature drops below a critical temperature.
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