Broadly, all materials can be categorized as metals or insulators, depending on the ability of electrons to move through the material and conduct electricity.

However, not all insulators are created equally. In simple materials, the difference between metallic and insulating behavior stems from the number of electrons present: an odd number for metals, and an even number for insulators.

In more complex materials, like so-called Mott insulators, the electrons interact with each other in different ways, with a delicate balance determining their electrical conduction.

In a Mott insulator, electrostatic repulsion prevents the electrons from getting too close to one another, which creates a traffic jam and limits the free flow of electrons.

Until now, there were two known ways to free up the traffic jam: by reducing the strength of the repulsive interaction between electrons, or by changing the number of electrons.

Berend Zwartsenberg, a Ph.D. student in the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues explored a third possibility: was there a way to alter the very quantum nature of the material to enable a metal-insulator transition to occur?

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