back to article MIT boffins demonstrate NEW form of magnetism

A state of magnetism predicted in 1987 has been observed for the first time at MIT, with researchers saying that it might one day find applications in storage and communications technologies. The “one day” is still quite some way off, however, with the researchers only at the very beginning of observing the properties of what’ …


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  1. Great Bu

    Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)

    Would have been even funnier if it was not named after it's discoverer, just that he thought it was an amusing name to give a substance which will undoubtedly form the core of hyperdrives or something ("Activate the HerbertSmitholator !")....

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)

      Not forgetting the mineral that was discovered near the town of Cummington...

      1. Ian Yates

        Re: Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)

        Shame it couldn't be used as a popular food ingredient, with appropriate advertising campaign.

        <sings> I feel like *cough*

      2. GreggS

        Re: Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)

        Surely even better would be one named after spending a night with El Reg's favourite clever person;


    2. Turtle

      Re: Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)

      "Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)"?

      Clearly a typo, as its full name is HerbertHooverInALandslideOverAlSmithite (named after the 1928 United States Presidential election).

      Every schoolchild knows this.

    3. umacf24

      Re: Herbertsmithite (named after its discoverer)

      I am fond of Soddyite, a uranium ore, named after the great chemist and discoverer of transmutation.

  2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

    that kind goes opposite to the meaning of quanta, doesn't it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

      I'm wondering if something critical has been lost in translation here.

      I vaguely recall some paper about fractional electrical charge in some sort of surface plasmon assemblage a few years back which didn't actually involve fractional charge at all, just something that looked a bit like it if you observed from suitably far away and squinted a bit.

      1. All names Taken

        Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

        But you can't write that in a paper an expect to be published "stand back, squirt it, observe"?

      2. JCitizen

        Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

        Perhaps you are thinking of "spintronics". In fact the only advantage this new tech would have over spintronics is the fact that magnetism is involved - if that is in fact an "advantage".

        In spintronics, a laser sets the spin of the electrons in a clear medium(crystal,etc.) as a way to store information; a lot like a transistor, but with many more states than just 0's and 1's. This would be bigger than a binary system.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

      It does go aganst the idea, yeah. So either their quanta are really multiples of quanta, ot they're not quanta, or it's like when you read a single binary bit over time which can only be 0 or 1, but for some unfothomable reason has a mean value somewhere inbetween

      1. squigbobble

        Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

        I vote that it's either a temporal effect (they're repeatedly reading a quantum state that's flipping back and forth) and the fraction is the mean state (i.e. 1/3 if it's in a '1' state for a third of the time) or it's the mean of several quantum states (from multiple particles/wavicles/whatever) that are being read simultaneously. If we never hear anything else about it, it was a measurement error.

        Not that I have owt above an AS in Physics...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

          I wonder if that would make it possible to create a device that would be able to "Sniff" the state of entangled particles without collapsing the system?

    3. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

      that kind goes opposite to the meaning of quanta, doesn't it?

      Yeah... "fractionalised quantum states" had me my scratching my head too. At least the article does a good job explaining why it's weird (and controversial).

    4. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states

      It depends on the relevant equations. There is a continuum of unbound states of the hygrogen atom, and a countable infinity of bound states.

  3. lambchops

    Xen crystal

    Looks like the stuff you push into the reactor at the start of Half Life..

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Xen crystal

      Bah.. probably not a problem.

      Commence insertion!

  4. ismet

    Guess I'll have to buy the White Album again.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    As someone said of another observed effect

    "We are in a state of such confusion that we are bound to learn something."

    No, I'm not sure what either.

    But it sounds exciting.

  6. Scott Pedigo

    But can they explain red states versus blue states?

    1. asdf Silver badge

      can't resist

      education? The ten poorest and also least educated states are all red (or in Nevada's case somewhat purple now).

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't someone once say......

    "If you think you understand quantum mechanics then you don't understand quantum mechanics"

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Didn't someone once say......

      Wasn't that Zuckerberg?

      1. Martin Huizing

        Re: Didn't someone once say......

        Hahaha!!! I misread Zuckerberg as Zoidberg and read it in his voice! Try it!

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Didn't someone once say......

      This sounds like a hybrid of the quotes at the top of

      All three are quite funny, until you get far enough into the subject to realise that they are all true and you have an exam on this subject in a few months time.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Didn't someone once say......

        Just don't let a bit of linear algebra faze you.

        And stay away from Bohmians!

        This just in: Peter Woit has published the notes on his Quantum Mechanics for Mathematicians. Hundreds of pages of goodness.

    3. Michael Dunn

      Re: Didn't someone once say......

      Richard Feynman.

  8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    And now for something somewhat different

    More interesting condensed matter physics + quantum phenomena here:

    Strange and Stringy

    Newly discovered states of matter embody what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” They defy explanation, but lately answers have come from a seemingly unrelated corner of physics: string theory

  9. Old Handle


    Isn't this pretty much the same story I read five years ago? Granted I don't understand the technical details enough to know whether they're talking about exactly the same thing, or if herbertsmithite actually has multiple exotic properties.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Wait...

      Indeed, this seems to be ongoing work.

      The 5-year old story says there is a new ansatz which comes from condensed matter physics, modeling empty space as a "string net" subject to excitations. Note: Similar approaches where attempted even longer ago, additionally one may note that the whole approach which led to the idea of a Higgs field is actually a port from condensed matter physics math into fundamental physics math, postulating that empty space is some kind of superconductor for something.

      If the spins that form our space organize into a string-net liquid, then the collective motions of strings give rise to light waves and the ends of strings give rise to electrons. The next challenge is to find an organization of spins that can give rise to gravitational wave.

      Other theories that describe light and electrons also exist, of course; Wen and Levin realize that the burden of proof is on them. It may not be far off. Their theory also describes possible new states with emergent light-like and electron-like excitations in some condensed matter systems, and Young Lee's group at MIT might have found such a system.

      So the MIT guys currently seem to be refining their math and are looking at herbertsmithite in a closer way. Which gives the El Reg article.

      This also ties in nicely with the SciAm article above in which String Theory math is applied to large sets of entangled particles by postulating a string structure "going sideways" with particles at the string ends. This is unlike the case of the usual "particles are strings" idea, which transforms the path of a particle in spacetime into a tube. Whether there is more to this than mathematical approaches clicking in place is another question.

      Maybe Thanu Padmanabhan has some ideas on how to use ideas from thermodynamic to fit gravity into this.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So what happens if you generate beams of neutrinos and antineutrinos, then collide them inside a crystal of this material?

    Hyperfield generator anyone?

    We'd need to use a superconducting grid to evenly distribute the field around and through the craft or the torsional stresses would tear it apart like a train impacting the Delorean at the end of BTTF III.

  11. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Magnets, how do they work?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Such Discoveries make me wonder what is important.

    The article didn't leave me feeling like they could actually do anything with this new discovery and indeed have spent more time with EGO naming something which takes three years to create.

    Then I wonder is it really new? Or is it just now they can SEE it? And what can they do with it? hook a little wire onto the "lesser green region" (from that NIST photo) For what possible useful purpose?

    Why don't they work on something more practical which can help people on Earth lift their middle finger to the man? like so: HHO 4 gallons per minute cold

    for the record: I don't have nothing to do with these guys, I just picked them as an example. I actually like another youtuber's ideas @ Mr2Tuff and Mr2Tuff2 with the solar panels and HHO

    1. MacGyver

      Re: Such Discoveries make me wonder what is important.

      It could mean the beginning of a new type of communications, and the end of WiFi, cellular, VHF, UHF, basically all "radio" communications. It could mean the beginning of instantaneous communications that work everywhere, so things like the Mars rovers could be driven in real-time, telescopes could be launched into space one light-hour out and be used to view the past in real-time. No more "Internet" but instead everyone could have one half of a set of entangled "radios" and the other sides would be linked to each other, allowing for completely anonymous worldwide instantaneous "sub-space-net". Hell you could drop televisions equipped with them into North Korea and they would be untraceable. There are a million uses for the tech if it works.

      The problem is that Einstein said you can't transfer information using it, but I have often wondered if you scaled it up (lots and lots of entangled particles grouped together), could you solve the whole "I want to measure the spin but my measuring the spin changes the spin I'm trying to measure" problem. It seems that there is a point where the number of particles is so large that "reality" isn't altered by observation anymore and I wonder if the entanglement would still exist in a measurable form.

      But what do I know, my knowledge is a horrible mix of Feynman lectures on tape, The Mechanical Universe lectures, some discovery channel documentaries and various Star Trek episodes (I don't think those count).

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. HHO

    HHO is just a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.

    It may be clean, but it is also highly explosive and making/storing it in bulk with no safety precautions is a good way to earn a Darwin Award.

    On the flip side, in an emergency it will start many IC engines, cold or otherwise.

    Bingofuel (carbon monoxide and hydrogen) is another variant of this, with the added risk of CO poisoning if combustion is incomplete.

    What we need is an alloy which stores hydrogen stably at zero applied pressure but releases it under some combination of heat and some other factor so it is essentially stable in a fire.

    Maybe have the alloy respond to ultrasound as well, so if it is heated up nothing happens up to say 900C.

    At a lower temperature with resonant untrasound the H2 deintercalates from the alloy reversibly.

    1. JCitizen

      Re: Re. HHO

      What about Borax hydride? I read many an article about successful experiments using this to store hydrogen, in fact I think it was pure hydrogen. I'm not sure what pressure it was stored under, but it wasn't any worse than the metal hydrides that are being used to store hydrogen under about 13+ psi or so now. There is a toy car that already uses this and fuel cell technology to provide electricity for propulsion.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "whose excited states apparently exist in a contiuum between quantum states"

    Quantical (quantum-classical) physics rocks.

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