Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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A Community of Electrons

A new experiment solving the mystery of plutonium’s missing magnetism also provides a groundbreaking insight into the overall nature of matter.
November 20, 2015
A Community of Electrons

With electronic correlations, electrons from many different atoms interact in a coordinated fashion that brings about special material properties.

The standard theory to explain solids fails spectacularly with plutonium.

In some solids, multiple electrons (or in some
cases, all of them) coordinate their behavior, saving energy by acting together. While the key role of these so-called electronic correlations in plutonium and other complex materials is well accepted among scientists, the exact rules that govern them are not well understood. What motivates material scientists and physicists like Los Alamos’s Marc Janoschek to study strong electronic correlations despite the challenges is that they frequently lead to material properties critical for future applications. These include exotic varieties of superconductivity, conducting electricity resistance-free even at relatively high temperatures and making possible such technological boons as levitating trains, faster computers, inexpensive MRI systems, lossless transformers and power transmission lines, and other energy applications. In a recent landmark experiment, Janoschek proved that electronic correlations can also explain why plutonium metal is not magnetic—a mystery that has confounded scientists for more than 50 years.

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