Theory Explains Strange Behavior Of Matter
Scientists are proposing a theory to explain the strange behavior some materials exhibit at extremely low temperatures. The theory is based on the concept of spontaneous symmetry breaking.
Superfluids, for instance, were discovered in 1937. They have the strange quality of being able to flow on surfaces without any friction, and are limited only by their own inertia.
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"Once people tell me what symmetry the system starts with and what symmetry it ends up with, and whether the broken symmetries can be interchanged, I can work out exactly how many bosons there are and if that leads to weird behavior or not," said one of the authors of the paper and physicist Hitoshi Murayama, the MacAdams Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley, a faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo. "We've tried it on more than 10 systems, and it works out every single time."
The symmetry of matter relates to the spins of the atoms and electrons. Cooling something to extremely low temperatures can affect these spins, and thus change the properties of the solid, liquid, or gas.
The scientists are hoping that the theory will allow for applications in a variety of fields.
"This is a particularly exciting result because it concerns pretty much all areas of physics; not only condensed matter physics, but also astrophysics, atomic, particle and nuclear physics and cosmology," Murayama said. "We are putting together all of them into a single theoretical framework."