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July 29, 2007

Quantum phase coherence imaged and manipulated

Researchers have imaged the quantum order which is sometimes referred to as phase coherence and can manipulate the distance over which it can be maintained. The team from the London Center for Nanotechnology, has detected a hidden magnetic "quantum order" that extends over chains of 100 atoms in a ceramic without classical magnetism.


Image of quantum order made using neutrons by the LCN (London Centre for Nanotechnology)/UCL team and its collaborators from the US and Japan at the ISIS particle accelerator in the UK. The sharp red peak in the middle of the picture corresponds to nearly perfect quantum coherence. (Credit: Image courtesy of University College London)

Other examples of large-scale quantum phase coherence include superconductors and superfluids where quantum physics leads to fascinating properties.

The team also discovered that they could limit the coherence or make it disappear altogether by introducing defects into the material either by adding chemical impurities (doping) or heating. These defects break the chains into independent sub-chains, each with its own, hidden order. This part of the reported research is the first step towards engineered spin-based quantum states in ceramics.

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