The first robust computational model of so-called “strange” metals has revealed that they are in fact a new state of matter. The model, developed by physicists from Cornell University and the Flatiron Institute, both in New York, could advance our understanding of other correlated quantum materials, such as high-temperature superconductors and even black holes.

Strange metals get their name from the peculiar behaviour of their electrons. Unlike electrons in ordinary metals, which travel freely with few interactions and little resistance, electrons in strange metals move sluggishly and in a restricted fashion. They also dissipate energy at the fastest possible rate allowed by the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. In this sense, strange metals lie somewhere between metals and insulators, which have strongly-interacting electrons that occupy fixed positions.

But their strangeness doesn’t end there. For more than 30 years, researchers have puzzled over the fact that strange metals can become superconductors when cooled below a certain (relatively high) critical temperature. While models of this behaviour have existed for a while, they could not be accurately solved because the electrons are entangled, meaning that they cannot be treated as individual particles. What is more, any real material will have an enormous number of electrons, making exact solutions impossible.

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