Quantum spin liquids are difficult to explain and even harder to understand.

To start, they have nothing to do with everyday liquids, like water or juice, but everything to do with special magnets and how they spin. In regular magnets, when the temperature drops, the spin of the electrons essentially freezes and forms a solid piece of matter. In quantum spin liquids, however, the spin of electrons doesn't freeze—instead the electrons stay in a constant state of flux, as they would in a free-flowing liquid.

Quantum spin liquids are one of the most entangled quantum states conceived to date, and their properties are key in applications that scientists say could catapult quantum technologies. Despite a 50-year search for them and multiple theories pointing to their existence, no one has ever seen definitive evidence of this state of matter.

In fact, researchers may never see that evidence because of the difficulty of directly measuring , a phenomenon Albert Einstein famously termed "spooky action at a distance." This is where two atoms become linked and able to exchange information no matter how far apart they are.

The mystery around quantum spin liquids has led to major questions about this exotic material in condensed matter physics that have to this point gone unanswered. But in a new paper in Nature Communications, a team of Brown University-led physicists begins to shed light on one of the most important questions, and does so by introducing a new phase of matter.

It all comes down to disorder.

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