Too Strange to Be True?

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The concept of electrons may have first been introduced in our chemistry classes with neat, easy-to-follow Bohr models. But what happens when they don’t act the way scientists anticipate? Graduate student Kirsty Scott and Professor Eduardo H. da Silva Neto from the Yale Department of Physics set out to discover the nature of these so-called “strange metals.”

According to basic quantum mechanics, an electron can be described as a quantum mechanical wave. “But in the strange metal phase, the wave description seems to not be applicable, which leaves us in a position where even the most advanced theories don’t seem able to explain what’s going on,” da Silva Neto said. 

The researchers were determined to uncover what happens at the electron level within these metals. Using a method called resonant inelastic X-ray scattering, they found a ‘quasi-circular’ pattern in the way electrons scatter at low energies. This means that when an electron changes direction while moving, it is free to change to any direction. ‘Quasi-circular’ patterns have typically been assumed to be necessary for strange metals, but have not, until now, been directly measured.

Matter matters. Scott, the leader of this study, believes that knowledge of the materials we use shapes our technology and therefore the society around us, as evidenced by historical periods like the “Stone Age” and the “Bronze Age” being defined by the materials of their time. Scott is enthusiastic about being part of a scientific endeavor where the study of novel material behaviors could usher in society’s next epoch.