Quantum Spin Liquid: Fourth state of matter discovered

Till date, everyone studied of three states of matter — solid , liquid and gas. However, researchers have unveiled a new state of matter. While experimenting with the behaviour of water molecules, researchers landed on to this completely new matter whose properties do not match with previously known three states.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have named the new state as “quantum spin liquid”. The peculiar name was given after seeing very strange and extreme confinement of water molecules where the quantum effect has a crucial role to play. The theory of existence of fourth state of matter isn’t new and four decades back researchers talked about the fourth state in certain types of magnets. However, it is the first time that study authors have confirmed the presence of fourth state.

Researchers explained that water molecule is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The water molecule is arranged in V-shaped geometry in hexagonal ultra-small channels – 5 angstrom across – of the mineral beryl. Each atom is about one angstrom in diameter where an angstrom measures 1/10-billionth of a metre.

“At low temperatures, this tunnelling water exhibits quantum motion through the separating potential walls, which is forbidden in the classical world,” said lead author Alexander Kolesnikov of ORNL’s Chemical and Engineering Materials Division.

“This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are ‘delocalised’ and therefore simultaneously present in all six symmetrically equivalent positions in the channel at the same time.”

“It’s one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience,” said Kolesnikov.

Such tunneling effect of water wasn’t known to scientists previously, however, researcher knew about the tunneling effect of hydrogen. The new study will help researchers in developing a better understanding of properties and thermodynamics of water in extreme conditions.

The study appeared in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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