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The way atoms arrange themselves into structures determines the physical properties of matter. Carbon as graphite, for instance, is opaque and soft, while as diamond it is transparent and hard. These different structures are stable because they are the lowest-energy states in the landscape spanned by all possible configurations of carbon. Identifying those states in general for a given combination of atoms is a challenging optimization problem. Chris Pickard at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Tohoku University, Japan, now shows that performing the optimization in higher spatial dimensions greatly accelerates the process.

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Category: Science